An inside look at a series of meetings led by the most famous entrepreneur of our generation.
Surely, Jobs wasn’t the easiest manager to work with. But there’s a lot to learn as we observe how he skillfully and insightfully leads this team.
I’ve picked out four additional lessons Jobs teaches by example.
1. Clarify your mission.
NeXT focused on producing high-powered computers for the higher-education industry. As Jobs explains passionately:
“You can’t give a student in physics a linear accelerator. You can’t give a student in biology a $5 million recombinant DNA laboratory. But you can simulate those things … on a very powerful computer.”
Jobs gets excited. He has a clear vision. But most important, he answers the pivotal question that every successful entrepreneur must convey to the team:
What problem do we solve?
2. Learn to conduct the orchestra.
In a series of lines from Aaron Sorkin’s already famous screenplay, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak holds the following dialogue with Jobs:
Wozniak: You can’t write code, you’re not an engineer, you’re not a designer, you can’t put a hammer to a nail … So how come 10 times in a day, I read “Steve jobs is a genius.” What do you do?
Jobs: I play the orchestra.
Jobs knew he could never have accomplished what he did alone. He needed engineers, marketers, designers … His skill was in bringing those people together and keeping them in harmony.
He used others’ talents to accomplish his vision.
3. Know when to say no.
In this captivating exchange, we see a member of the team suggest that the order of the company’s priorities should be changed. Jobs hears him out, but follows by vehemently defending the price point as non-negotiable. Most important, he explains exactly why price should remain priority number one. (Ironically, when the NeXT computer finally released, it cost more than double that original price point. Many believed this was the computer’s major flaw.)
Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer and the man Steve Jobs once called “his spiritual partner,” revealed recently that nearly every day Jobs would ask him the same question:
“How many times did you say no today?”
4. Hold yourself accountable.
Three months later, the NeXT team returned to Pebble Beach to hold its second retreat. Despite some progress, the team is behind in pursuit of many of its goals. The kickoff slide to Jobs’s presentation: “The Honeymoon Is Over.”
Jobs assesses the situation with the following:
“One of the things I don’t see is … I don’t see it in myself, I don’t see it in enough of the rest of us is, I don’t see that ‘startup hustle.’ In other words, if we zoom out at the big picture, it would be a shame to have lost the war because we won a few battles. And I sort of feel like I and some of the rest of us are concentrating too much on the smaller battles … and we’re not keeping the war in perspective. And the war is called survival.”
Although Jobs identifies a sense of relaxation and even entitlement in his team, he first puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the person who is most responsible: Steve Jobs.
The key: If you want to change others’ behavior, start at the top. Start with yourself.
Despite Jobs’s meeting conducting prowess, some claim that NeXT was a failure in the end. The company only shipped about 50,000 units and eventually dropped out of the hardware business.
But others see it from a different perspective. Tim Berners-Lee, known as “the father of the internet,” used the NeXT computer and operating system to create the World Wide Web. Apple purchased NeXT in 1997 for $429 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock; as part of the agreement, Jobs returned to Apple as chief executive. NeXT software was then used as the foundation for what we now know as OS X, iOS, watchOS, and the App Store.
Oh, yeah, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world along the way.
I’ll take a failure like that any day.