Leadership Lessons from Visionaries, Part Two: Steve Jobs

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

The first installment was a look at Walt Disney. The second installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from a select biography of Steve Jobs, giving you background on his excellent of use of “vision” and “communication.” The third and fourth installments will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts, each with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is my hope that you will be inspired to live and lead 2021 with clarity.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years – as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues – Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.  

Although Jobs cooperated with the publication of Steve Jobs, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.


VISION COMMUNICATION ILLUSTRATION

While Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is remembered in many ways for the successful innovations he led Apple to accomplish, undoubtedly his most memorable public moments were the product introductions he unveiled over the years.

An Apple product unveiling by Steve Jobs was not a dry, technical recitation. Instead, Jobs electrified his audiences with his incomparable style and showmanship. He didn’t just convey information in his presentations; he told stories, painted pictures in the listener’s minds, and above all, shared a vision of what could be.

A presentation by Steve Jobs was a transformative experience that his audience found unique, inspiring, and unforgettable.

Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.              

Steve Jobs

The Apple II Launch Event – April 1977

It is important to “impute” your greatness by making a memorable impression on people, especially when launching a new product. That was reflected in the care that Jobs took with Apple’s display area. Other exhibitors had card tables and poster board signs. Apple had a counter draped in black velvet and a large pane of backlit Plexiglas with Apple’s new logo. They put on display the only three Apple IIs that had been finished, but empty boxes were piled up to give the impression that there were many more on hand.

The Macintosh Launch Event – January 1984

The lights dimmed as Jobs reappeared onstage and launched into a dramatic version of the battle cry he had delivered earlier during the Macintosh’s development.

“It is 1958. IBM passes up a chance to buy a young fledgling company that has invented a new technology called xerography. Two years later, Xerox was born, and IBM has been kicking themselves ever since.”

“It is now 1984. It appears that IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, after initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and –controlled future and are turning back to Apple as the only force who can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all, and is aiming its guns at its last obstacle to industry control, Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right?”

As he built to the climax, the audience went from murmuring to applauding to a frenzy of cheering and chanting. But before they could answer the Orwell question, the auditorium went black and the “1984” commercial appeared on the screen. When it was over, the entire audience was on its feet cheering.

With a flair for the dramatic, Jobs walked across the dark stage to a small table with a cloth bag on it. “Now I’d like to show you Macintosh in person,” he said. He took out the computer, keyboard, and mouse, hooked them together deftly, then pulled one of the new 3½-inch floppies from his shirt pocket.

The theme from Chariots of Fire began to play, the word “MACINTOSH” scrolled horizontally onscreen, then underneath it the words “Insanely great” appeared in script, as if being slowly written by hand. Not used to such beautiful graphic displays, the audience quieted for a moment. Wild cheering and shrieks erupted from the audience, followed by a five-minute standing ovation.

The iPod – October 2001

When it came time to reveal the product, after he had described its technical capabilities, Jobs did not do his usual trick of walking over to a table and pulling off a velvet cloth. Instead he said, “I happen to have one right here in my pocket.” He reached into his jeans and pulled out the gleaming white device. “This amazing little device holds a thousand songs, and it goes right into my pocket.” He slipped it back in and ambled offstage to applause.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

A NEXT STEP

Set aside some time to view these launch events, and take notes on how you might adapt Jobs’ techniques to upcoming events in your organization.

Watch videos of Steve Jobs and select product launches by clicking on the links below:

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 135-3, released January 2019.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

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