According to Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, these were some characteristics of Steve Jobs that made him successful. I also read, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the official biography, but because Becoming Steve focused more on his career and less on his personal life, it was easier to keep track of his characteristics in Becoming Steve. Some of these were characteristics that he was lacking – or weren’t well developed – the first time he was at Apple and led, all or in part, to his dismissal from the company. Some of these characteristics intersect with the ones that I went over before, the characteristics of Steve Jobs that are the opposite of what traditional education teaches.
Characteristics of Steve Jobs that made him successful
Jobs had the ability to recognize brilliance in others, like Steve Wozniak (Woz), the cofounder of Apple.
In both books, the authors acknowledge that Woz was the incredibly brilliant engineer behind Apple; Jobs “tinkered” with electronics, but wasn’t a brilliant engineer. But Woz has readily acknowledges that without Jobs he would have never reached the accomplishments that he achieved. In fact, he was employed by the giant HP (Hewlett Packard) at the time, and while he offered his ideas to them, they failed to see their potential. Jobs had his best success when he believed in people – Woz (Apple) and Ed Catmull and John Lasseter (Pixar). So you might say that he was benefiting from the work and brilliance of others (which school would never allow. Seen the rules on plagiarism lately?), but refer to Woz’s view above about Jobs’ importance in his accomplishements, or think about where Pixar would be if Jobs hadn’t backed them.
Jobs had the ability to believe in his ideas, absolutely and without question.
This wasn’t in my notes specifically, and wonder why, because I know I definitely got this impression from reading the book. You will also see that this “strength” shows up in a list of his “weaknesses.”
Jobs had the ability to believe and and back the brilliant ideas of others, like Woz and Lasseter.
He didn’t just recognize brilliant creators, he back them absolutely and without question, when others wouldn’t. If he believed in an idea, he didn’t care how hard it was or what the market research said. He would get behind it.
Jobs had the ability to pinpoint a problem, like say in the plot of a Pixar movie, even if he didn’t know – or didn’t tell them – how to fix it.
And I suspect that his demand for excellence played into the fact that if Jobs had pinpointed a problem, the creators knew they couldn’t just keep glossing over it; it would have to be fixed. From my own experience, I would guess that creators often know that a problem exists, but if it’s difficult to correct, they keep hoping they can just ignore it and it will turn out not to matter. Jobs wouldn’t let them ignore it.
Jobs could understand the technology and understand his engineers.
Business managers often don’t understand the technical details of the projects they’re managing. This isn’t something I’ve just read, but something I’ve learned from engineers I know. In Becoming Steve, one of the difficulties noted with Apple during the years that Jobs was absent, was that the top engineers were seven levels down in management.
At the same time, Jobs had an intuitive “understanding of the needs of regular people.” [quote from Becoming Steve]
This understanding, combined with the understanding of technical details, was extremely unusual. The idea that scientists and engineers can’t relate to “regular people” has some grounding in my own experience.
Related to that, Jobs realized the importance of aesthetics.
This was a detail that the ugly PCs of the 90’s made quite obvious that most engineers didn’t think it was important. See above.
Jobs had the ability to challenge people and inspire them to do what they thought was impossible.
Even early on with Woz, he would tell Jobs that something was impossible, and Jobs could challenge and encourage him in just the right way to achieve it.
By his second time at Apple, Jobs was smart enough, and secure enough, to surround himself with a brilliantly smart team that wasn’t afraid to question him.
But questioning him was never easy; it wasn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, it could get down right ugly, with yelling and insults. His top team learned to not take it personally. And also knew that at this point in his career, even if Jobs initially called an idea “stupid,” he had gained the ability to come back hours, or even days later, with a changed mind. Not that he would necessarily acknowledge that their idea was great, even then.
Jobs had the ability to predict where technology was going.
Not just in the near future, but in the far future. He had the ability to see potential.
Jobs had a visionary ability to see alternate uses and potential for different technologies to combine them into something completely new.
For example, the iphone grew out of the bettering of the ipod for music by putting it on your phone, combined with a separately developed multi-touch screen, realizing that the market was more ready for that than something like the bigger ipad. (Which was released later, even though it was comparatively easier technology in several ways.)
Jobs was an incredible showman and a charismatic extemporaneous speaker, with the ability to gloss over flaws when needed for effect.
He could do this to the point that it could be considered misrepresenting the product, or dishonest. But I’m sure he justified it by saying he was showcasing the technologies potential that others couldn’t see.
Jobs figured out what he was passionate about.
He realized that for him to be passionate about something, it had to both be a product he loved and he found useful.
Jobs was a perfectionist and demanded perfection from others.
This could sometimes work against him. It is a difficult balance.
Jobs produced products that created emotional responses, like Disney.
This caught my attention when I was going through my notes, because since reading Becoming Steve, I had attended a book signing for Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. Anytime we experience something with an emotional response, our reaction is magnified.
Of course Steve Jobs wasn’t perfect. (As is also widely known.) He had some characteristics that hampered his success, especially during his first tenure at Apple. I’ll look at those characteristics in my next post.