Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tom Davenport for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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The world continues to honor and mourn Steve Jobs weeks after his death, and there is plenty to praise. His legacy lives on in today’s iCloud and iOS 5 availability, and in the new iPhone 4S being praised by several prominent technology reviewers. David Pogue, my favorite technology writer, is so enthusiastic as to call the new phone’s features almost magical.
I’ve long admired Apple products, too. By my count there are six Macbooks, two iPads, and three iPhones—not to mention a few iPods—in my family’s possession. If you judge only by the product outcomes or by Apple’s market value, Jobs seems the best decision-maker in the history of consumer products.
But of course, like every other human, his decisions weren’t all great. In the 1980s he hired John Sculley to succeed himself as CEO of Apple, and Sculley presided over a period of slow growth and product missteps in the ensuing years. Jobs commented about Sculley: “What can I say? I hired the wrong guy. He destroyed everything I spent 10 years working for, starting with me.” Jobs’ major startup during his hiatus from Apple, NeXT Computer, was largely unsuccessful — at least in the hardware business. His decision to sell all of his Apple stock when Sculley pushed him out cost him billions. And when he came back as CEO, he allowed the backdating of stock options.
In terms of decision processes and style, Jobs was famous for being a tough micro-manager, at least where product design decisions are concerned. As a Fortune magazine article on Apple’s culture put it: “He’s a corporate dictator who makes every critical decision—and oodles of seemingly noncritical calls too, from the design of the shuttle buses that ferry employees to and from San Francisco to what food will be served in the cafeteria.”
He also didn’t believe in analytical decisions based on extensive market research. From The New York Times‘ obituary: ”Mr. Jobs’s own research and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide. When asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”
Based on the evidence, I will grant that he made some fantastic design decisions, but not that he was an expert on effective decision processes.
Granted, there is some evidence that even Jobs came to realize the shortcomings of one man’s intuition as the only source of decision wisdom. In a summary of a 1997 interview, a New York Times article published earlier this year noted: “In his early years at Apple, before he was forced out in 1985, Mr. Jobs was notoriously hands-on, meddling with details and berating colleagues. But later, first at Pixar, the computer-animation studio he co-founded, and in his second stint at Apple, he relied more on others, listening more and trusting members of his design and business teams.”
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Tom Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College and has taught at Harvard Business School, Dartmouth’s Tuck School, the University of Texas, and the University of Chicago. He is a widely published author and speaker on the topics of analytics, information and knowledge management, reengineering, enterprise systems, and electronic business. He has written over 100 articles for such publications as Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, California Management Review, the Financial Times, and many other publications, and has been a columnist for Information Week, CIO, and Darwin magazines. His latest of a dozen books is Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams That Got Them Right, co-authored with Brook Manville and published Harvard Business Review Press (2012). To check out Tom’s other blog posts, please click here.