It’s not like the internet doesn’t have enough people regurgitating old Steve Jobs stories right now and despite personally being a shameless fan boy and wanting to give my little tip of the hat to Steve I’ve held back, until now.
There is a huge myth about Steve, that Apple = Steve Jobs. Of course he was a very clever guy, and from the outside looking in he seems like a much more hands on CEO than most. We get blindsided by the stories of his individual touch on products, as if the hand of God had reached down and then it was done. I don’t believe it though, not for one minute.
Steve’s major contribution was and is a culture, an ethos and a way of thinking about the world. The intersection of liberal arts with technology. The obsession with thinking differently, as a marketing catch cry and a way of working. He knew what great looks like and he set the bar, demanding that standard.
The thing is, with rare exception, at best teams and individuals only perform at the level of the ‘greatest’ work they have seen done. It’s a big part of how we learn – we mimic, we imitate and finally we own things. It’s why having one or two gurus in a development team can lift the level of the whole team. It’s why going to conferences, reading books and being actively involved in your industry outside your own company is so important. This is also why stagnant teams and organisations need new blood, new ideas and dramatic intervention to effect change.
Steve created an environment, a culture, where being obsessive about the little details was rewarded. Where it was ok to scrap things and start again. Where it was just assumed that even the best ideas would be iterated on, over and over again before they might finally see the light of day. Even then, very often we see a lean minimum marketable feature set in version 1.0 Apple products.
Steve’s real legacy was in creating a whole company of people who know what’s remarkable and what insanely great really means. That’s the lesson for the rest of us: make sure you really know what great looks like.
This post was inspired by Steve Jobs and the Eureka Myth at HBR. Also, if you haven’t seen it, make sure you check out the Stanford Commencement speech Steve gave in 2005.