6 November 2011 | Articles, Articles 2011, Management | By Christophe Lachnitt
What I Learned On Management By Reading Walter Isaacson’s Biography Of Steve Jobs
This book is a wealth of lessons in management. He also inadvertently reveals the final contradiction of Steve Jobs that could weaken Apple in the future.
Walter Isaacson’s book is rich enough in management lessons to feed Superception’s articles daily for at least a month. But the richness and diversity of the world news is such that it would be a shame to spend several weeks on the same topic. That’s why I will try to summarize these lessons in four points:
- Even the greatest geniuses learn: Steve Jobs learned a lot in his early career from a few mentors – for example he was amazingly faithful to the marketing lessons lavished on him by Mike Markkula, Apple’s second CEO (Jobs was aware in his twenties that he had not yet the qualities to lead the company he had created). Later, he learned from his creative outbursts at NeXT and at Apple with the G4 Cube. As emphasized in Isaacson’s book by Arthur Rock (a member of Apple’s Board of Directors), Jobs’ phenomenal success when he came back to lead Apple in 1997 was not so much prepared by his eviction from his own company in 1985 than by his repeated failures with NeXT when he developed very innovative products that did not meet any market demand.
- Even in a universe as rational as computer science, intuition has tremendous potential. Jobs was heavily influenced by his stay in India re: how he could best use his brain by combining rational thinking and intuition. In his view, rational thinking was nurtured whereas intuition was natural. And the latter was much more powerful than the former. Indeed, in all fields concerning the relationship to others and, therefore, dealing with emotions – the first of which are the three topics covered by Superception (communications, management, and marketing) -, intuition brings a huge added-value to decision making.
- Willfulness – probably one of the most salient features of Steve Jobs who felt that reality was subject to his will – is a great vehicle for progress: It took Apple and its industrial partners to achieve a number of things that everyone, with the exception of Jobs, thought impossible. But every flow has its ebb: His willfulness led Steve Jobs to deny certain realities that would eventually catch up with him in a very painful way: It’s true of his professional failures (see above), of his inability to cope emotionally with certain parts of his personal life (such as his relationship with his first daughter) and of his refusal to treat his cancer during nine months. This confirms in an extreme way one of my core beliefs: There is no absolute when it comes to human beings. All human qualities can be positive in a certain context and negative in another. This is what makes the human being so complex and so interesting to study.
- Steve Jobs’ favorite maxim was “the journey is the reward.” It was notably illustrated by the premium he put on Apple’s products over its financial results. Apple profits enabled the Company to invest in developing new products but they were not an end in itself. Jobs’ motivation lay in the products and he considered that the inversion of Apple priorities by John Sculley led the Company to the brink. We can only agree with him: No company can rally its employees and customers with more zeros on its bottom line. In this regard, Jobs set up at Apple an organization which is almost unique in the corporate world: It has a single P&L at the company level instead of the traditional divisions which, as their name suggests, usually fragment a company instead of uniting it to implement a common vision. The internal cohesion that Jobs imposed at Apple allowed for example the company to create a coherent musical ecosystem for consumers (Mac + iTunes + iTunes Store + iPod) whereas Sony, which originally had all the assets to do so, was never able to foster internal cooperation between its divisions and therefore lost the leadership it had acquired in this market with the Walkman.
The premium given to products by Steve Jobs brings me to my final thought – “one more thing” as Jobs would have said. 🙂 At the end of his book, Walter Isaacson quotes Steve Jobs as he explains his core principles. Among them, Jobs underlines that the decline of some major IT leaders results from the lesser emphasis put on products during the transition from a product-driven CEO to a sales- or profit-driven CEO. That is funny when one considers that the man Jobs proposed to Apple’s Board of Directors as his successor is no other than Tim Cook. And what does Steve Jobs say about Tim Cook in another section of Walter Isaacson’s book? That his only issue is to not be a product-person!
This is the final contradiction of a leader and a man who has, throughout his life, always seemed to combine opposites.