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It is about Taste

The most obviously unusual thing about Apple is that it’s a technology company whose fortunes have been shaped by our ideas about taste—a quality that Americans have always been ambivalent about. On the one hand, we admire good taste: we recognize it as a driver of novelty and enjoy sneering at people whose taste is worse than ours. On the other hand, we resent taste: we worry that a preoccupation with taste is élitist, we’re cynical about its circular, arbitrary nature (hemlines go up, then come down), and we hate being told when our taste is bad. Taste is elevating but undemocratic. We allow it to influence certain parts of life (cars, sneakers, houses, haircuts), but we’re suspicious about people who have too much good taste in other areas (wine, cheese, dogs).

Apple’s history starts with the fact that it tried to take on the complexities of taste—and did so from within an industry that is deeply hostile to it. Especially in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, the tech sector demanded a utilitarian plainness, an ostentatious unpretentiousness, in its products—values that Apple rejected. Often, Apple’s detractors and fans, while arguing, on some level, about technical details, also ended up arguing about the cultural nuances of taste.

For decades, it was common for tech commentators to accuse Apple of frivolity and élitism, and to criticize it for playing “the fashion game”—a coded criticism, because good taste is often seen as feminine, and the world of technology was imagined as a utilitarian, masculine domain. Although the story of Apple’s design success is often presented in purely aesthetic or technological terms, the company’s innovations in that area had political and cultural dimensions, too: they were, among other things, an attempt to pry computer technology out of the hands of a particular group of men. In this sense, Apple did more than just make well-designed products; in its own way, it fought in the culture wars.

Steve Jobs’s Story

Steve Jobs’s story is, similarly, often told in familiar terms that don’t quite capture what really made him interesting. In business books, Jobs is presented as a visionary management guru; in Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s recent film, he’s cast in the stock role of a flawed genius seeking redemption. But what was fascinating about Jobs doesn’t fit into either of those narratives. Jobs was a stylishly dorky Buddhist technophile, an egomaniacal hippie minimalist, a sentimentally mercurial aesthete hard-ass, a Zen perfectionist, an adopted son who denied, but later accepted, the paternity of his daughter. No novelist could have invented Steve Jobs. He was a man who fit into no preëxisting category—and the fact that he was the boss and public face of the world’s most valuable company was, to say the least, unusual. Ultimately, Jobs was captivating as a human being who embodied many common and contradictory attitudes, not just about technology but about work, family, and spiritual life. During his long, sad, semi-public illness, those contradictions became not just fascinating but moving.

Since Jobs’s death, in 2011, Apple, too, has become interesting in ways that exceed its identity as a technology company. Apple is a spectacular American success story, and so it has come to stand in for American enterprise as a whole: watching Tim Cook—a merely exceptional corporate leader—one begins to wonder how long any institution can expect to hold on to greatness. Similarly, Apple’s products are more appealing each year, but our collective addiction to our smartphones has become a source of collective shame: one wonders whether Apple and Jobs have, inadvertently, taught us all a humbling lesson about our relationship to technology.

Apple Story

When Jobs said, in 1990, that the personal computer was like “a bicycle for the mind,” he meant that it might help us think. One of the odd twists in the Apple story is that the company’s most successful computer, the iPhone, has turned out to be a bicycle for the mind in a different way: it helps us glide quickly away from wherever we are into some other mental space. In a recent book called “The Four-Dimensional Human,” the literary scholar Laurence Scott situates today’s smartphone moment within a larger history stretching back to the Edwardian era, when radio was invented. Scott points out that, around that time, writers began to imagine a future when human beings would live not just in the here and now but also, simultaneously, on some other, more abstract plane. (He quotes a description of this “fourth dimension” from Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford’s 1901 novel “The Inheritors”: “One seemed to see something beyond, something vaster—vaster than the cathedrals . . . an unrealised, unrealisable infinity of space.”) The smartphone, through its constant connectivity, has made this vision a reality. We’re all where we are—and also, at the same time, somewhere else. Many of us have been four-dimensional beings only since 2007, when the first iPhone arrived. We don’t know how to think about our new condition just yet.

Apple’s first forty years, in short, were not just forty years in a very successful company’s life. They were a unique time. Transformative technologies were invented, and their place in society was contested and defined. A spectacularly unique person led those efforts. And—arguably—a threshold in human affairs was crossed, as many of us began to live four-dimensional lives. I imagine that Apple will continue to create excellent products for many years to come. But I doubt that the strange, world-altering story of Apple can be repeated, by Apple or any other company. History like this happens only once.

Steve Jobs Style

  • “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

  • “If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.”

Steve Jobs: an unconventional leader

Steve Jobs was an unconventional leader. His management style wasn't the stuff of university textbooks - he wasn't known for his consultative or consensus building approach. He was a "high-maintenance co-worker" who demanded excellence from his staff and was known for his blunt delivery of criticism.

But it was his sheer genius combined with his ability to articulate his vision and bring staff, investors and customers along on the journey - plus the lessons learned in a major career setback - that made it work. The results: indisputable.

A 'visionary' is how he is most often described in relation to Apple, the company he founded with high school buddy Steve Wozniak in 1976, was effectively fired from in 1985, and then returned to in 1997 with a renewed sense of purpose.

And what a triumphant return it was. According the LA Times, the market value of Apple's shares has grown from about $US5 billion in 2000 to $US351 billion today making it one of the biggest publicly listed companies in the US, up there with the likes of Exxon Mobil.
Dr Brent describes Jobs as “one of the greatest business strategists of all times”.

“There are a lot of people out there claiming to be futurists,” Dr Coker said. “Most of them are keynote speakers or public speakers - it is rare to have a futurist that demonstrated his ability to almost predict the future in a real live business setting.”

Jobs recruited former Pepsi executive John Sculley to take the chief executive position, only to be stripped of all his power by him in 1985. According to author Steven Levy, this was prompted by the Macintosh computer not selling as well as expected, as well as Jobs's demanding management style.

As Harry McCracken writes in Time magazine: “Jobs may have been inspiring, but he was also a high-maintenance co-worker” who labeled people who didn't impress him as “bozos”.

“We have an environment where excellence is really expected,” Jobs told Levy in an interview in 1983.

“What's really great is to be open when [the work] is not great. My best contribution is not settling for anything but really good stuff, in all the details. That's my job, to make sure everything is great.”

Hard lessons

“I think that was a significant part of it. At Apple he'd been constantly kicking against partners or superiors to get what he wanted, often blaming others when things didn't work out and occasionally wrapping himself in glory that rightly belonged to others.”
Dr Croker believes it also gave him that extra push to succeed at Apple the second time around.

“Anyone who has been kicked out of the ring forms the attitude 'right, I'm going to show them',” he said.

“They get very focused – if anything it did him some good. It was an extremely strong motivator for success in later years.”

Control of the big and little

Jobs exerted his control over every aspect of the business in the quest for perfection. The New York Times reports that over the course of a year he threw out two prototypes of the iPhone before accepting the third. Toy Story took four years to make, but retained the support of Jobs despite the company struggling financially.

An investigation into the workplace culture of Apple published in May by Fortune magazine found that Jobs's control even extended as far as the design of the company bus and the food served at the cafeteria.

In its interviews with former employees Fortune found that Jobs encouraged a culture of strict accountability at all levels of the organization by meeting each Monday with executives to set the tone for the week. Run by a strict agenda, these meetings reviewed every single product under development.

“Eighty per cent is the same as it was the last week, and we just walk down it every single week,” Jobs said in an interview with Fortune in 2008.

“We don't have a lot of process at Apple, but that's one of the few things we do just to all stay on the same page."

Employees were recruited into the company as specialists and put into roles that made the most of their specific strengths and abilities. Turnover was low despite the demanding corporate culture - Jobs was a passionate advocate for his vision and incredibly effective at communicating this to shareholders, customers and staff.
"It is a happy place in that it has true believers," a headhunter told Fortune.

"People join and stay because they believe in the mission of the company, even if they aren't personally happy."

As his biographer Walter Isaacson and others have pointed out, however, Steve Jobs was far from perfect. I’d like to comment in particular on his leadership and management style. It is well known that Steve Jobs could be arrogant, dictatorial, and mean-spirited. Yet he was a great leader. So does this invalidate the claims of some management writers and thought leaders today that effective business leaders today need to be nice, kind, humble (Level 5 leadership), and practice “servant leadership?” Does this mean that executive leaders should now not worry about being ruthless, imperial and aloof?

Not at all. I think this apparent contradiction can be explained by two sets of factors. One, we have to recognize that leadership style is situational. A style that might work under some circumstances might not work in others. Of course this concept has been around for years, but I am still surprised at the claims being made about “universal” leadership characteristics and behavior. Those of you who have worked overseas and led cross-functional global teams will surely recognize that your leadership needs to be adapted to specific cultures. I believe that Mr. Jobs’ leadership style (not to mention his genius in design) was a key ingredient in Apple’s success; had he used a different style, he might not have achieved the same spectacular results at Apple.

Two, despite the observations of some about Mr. Jobs’ arrogant style, I believe that he had at least three qualities that great executive leaders have: a clear vision, a passion for the company and its people, and an ability to inspire trust. This is what I would consider his leadership character. In fact, Mr. Jobs not only had a vision, he made sure that everyone in the company bought into that vision, and this created a “higher purpose” for the company that really excited Apple employees. Of course, his passion for the company and its products is legendary. And employees trusted Mr. Jobs – not because he founded the company but because he showed time and again his competence in many areas, especially product design and marketing. And because employees saw - through his behavior - that Mr. Jobs was not driven by his own ego or by some self-interested needs (like the outrageous pay packages of some executives), they trusted him. So if Mr. Jobs was at times arrogant, even nasty, employees viewed these behaviors in the context of these underlying qualities.

I think the lessons for executives today are clear. Leadership style is situational – your behavior can and should vary depending on circumstances. What is important to consider is the character of your leadership. Do you have a clear vision for your team or your company? Do your team members believe in that vision, and are they excited enough to become part of the journey towards achieving that vision? And do they trust you to do what is ultimately best for the company, the stakeholders, the customers, and employees – not what’s best for you?

Steve Jobs has always been considered an anomaly in management; his leadership style was something to admire or to criticize, but definitely not to replicate. He did not fit into the frameworks of business textbooks: there was orthodox management, and then there was Steve Jobs.

The reason why institutional management theories have always looked at his style as an exception is that he was navigating a territory that is often obscure to management: the creation of meaning, both for customers and employees.

He put people at the center. Which does not imply that he gave users what they wanted, nor that he created a flat playful organization where ideas flew from the bottom up. Apple’s approach to innovation is definitely not user-driven: it does not listen to users, but makes proposals to them. And narrations on Jobs’s leadership style tells of a vertical, top-down approach, often harsh. At new product launches, he, not the team, was the protagonist.

“Managing by meaning” is recognizing that people are human: they have rational, cultural, and emotional dimensions, and they appreciate the person who creates a meaning for them to embrace. We know customers do not buy Apple’s product simply because of utility or functionality; people are even prone to forgive some of Apple’s technical limitations in exchange for great design — and identity. For Jobs, design was not only beauty, but creating new meanings for users.

Jobs was constantly driven by the search for products that made more sense to people. And Apple has been a champion in creating new product meanings: the iMac G3, released in 1998, with his colorful translucent materials inspired by modern households products, changed the meaning of computers from office objects to home devices; the iPod plus the iTunes application and store created a new meaning in the world of music — accessibility — by making it easier to search, discover, buy, listen to, and organize music wherever a customer was; the iPhone turned the meaning of smart phones from objects for business to objects of social entertainment. These products where not necessarily best in class in terms of performance, but they were more meaningful to users.
Jobs also offered meaning to his employees. It is known that Apple’s employees worked hard on visionary projects, striving to meet targets and to satisfy their leader’s maniacal attention to detail. Jobs infused them with a sense of mission. Apple had to leave a mark in the world of computing, improve people’s lives, be bold and, of course, “think different.”

Experts and academics in business schools have often dismissed this approach as the outcome of the unique personality of Steve Jobs. A kind of “guru process,” as a colleague once told me. Nothing to be considered as a role model. The reason is that institutional management is rooted into analytics, engineering, and the social sciences. Jobs had no disdain for these, but meaning is connected to other, more slippery territories: culture and the humanities, which unfortunately business schools hardly master. During an interview, Jobs stated that “The only problem with Microsoft is that they absolutely just have no taste. I mean that in the big way. [...] They don’t bring much culture into their product. Proportionally spaced fonts come from typesetting and beautiful books.” And in 2010, during his keynote for the launch of the iPad, he said, “The reason we’ve been able to create products like this is because we’ve tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.”

Institutional management is scared by culture and the humanities. They are not measurable and cannot be codified in processes. They depend on the person. What Jobs taught us is that managers are people before being managers. They have a personal vision of the world, painstakingly developed through years of research and exploration in life. Why should manager forget about culture? No method, tools and process can give you the capability to create meaning, to create visions. Only your personal culture, that no one can imitate, can.


“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

Jobs muttered this quote under his breath after he made one of the most controversial decisions in the movie. He denied three of the six original Apple employees (and former friends) stock when the company went public in 1981, as he believed they were no longer critical assets to the prospering company’s success. Every move he made, no matter how heartless it seemed, was for the betterment of his employees, betterment of his products, and betterment of his company.


“If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.”

Jobs believed passion was a critical component of success. Since work would fill a large part of people’s lives, he urged everyone to do what they love. Because the only way to be truly satisfied was to do great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. It was his fearless pursuit of passion that co-founded Apple in 1976, and it was that same fearless pursuit that kept him motivated after he was fired 10 years later.


“If you don’t share our vision…then get out!”

If there was one thing Jobs did not tolerate, it was an employee that didn’t share his vision. After Apple’s best programmer told Jobs that his requests for the newest Apple II computer could not be done, the co-founder fired him on the spot without hesitation. Jobs stayed focused on the vision he had for Apple and made sure the company and every employee were constantly headed toward that vision. Because of this, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest visionary legends of all time.


“Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently…the ones that change things.”

The Apple slogan, “Think Different,” was also Jobs’ mentality behind his hiring process. He didn’t just hire highly qualified technical engineers. Instead, he hired “musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians who also happened to be computer scientists.” In his to Stanford, Jobs finished the quote, “While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who think they are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones that do.”


“The greatest artists like Dylan, Picasso and Newton risked failure. And if we want to be great, we’ve got to risk it too.”

What separates the people who do things from the ones who just dream about them? The bravery to take risks. It’s no secret that Jobs didn’t hesitate when it came to taking risks. He often said that Apple raised the bar for personal computing and if they wanted to stay there, they would have to risk everything. It was his risk-everything mentality that took a small startup in his parent’s garage and turned it into a multi-billion dollar company.


“If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.”

“Make it great,” was one of Jobs’ many signature catch phrases and the foundation of his consumer-focused vision. He often asked himself, “Is this as great as it could be?” because he believed his customers deserved nothing less. He wouldn’t just make it; he’d make it great. Great products would satisfy customers, and in turn, produce great profits.

Passion for Perfection

“Steve Jobs’s first act when he came back to Apple,” he recalled, “was not to start doing product ads or figuring out how to build a new Macintosh and sell it to people, but how to define the values of his company. And he did it with two words: think different.”

Have a “reality distortion field.” A good leader drives people to do things they don’t think they can do. “Don’t be afraid. You can do it,” was a mantra repeated by Jobs to his partners.

I think we’re having fun. I think our customers really like our products. And we’re always trying to do better.

1. Steve Jobs said: Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

Innovation has no limits. The only limit is your imagination. It’s time for you to begin thinking out of the box. If you are involved in a growing industry, think of ways to become more efficient; more customer friendly; and easier to do business with. If you are involved in a shrinking industry – get out of it quick and change before you become obsolete; out of work; or out of business. And remember that procrastination is not an option here. Start innovating now!

2. Steve Jobs said: Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

There is no shortcut to excellence. You will have to make the commitment to make excellence your priority. Use your talents, abilities, and skills in the best way possible and get ahead of others by giving that little extra. Live by a higher standard and pay attention to the details that really do make the difference. Excellence is not difficult – simply decide right now to give it your best shot – and you will be amazed with what life gives you back.

3. Steve Jobs said: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

I’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” Seek out an occupation that gives you a sense of meaning, direction and satisfaction in life. Having a sense of purpose and striving towards goals gives life meaning, direction and satisfaction. It not only contributes to health and longevity, but also makes you feel better in difficult times. Do you jump out of bed on Monday mornings and look forward to the work week? If the answer is ‘no’ keep looking, you’ll know when you find it.

4. Steve Jobs said: “You know, we don’t grow most of the food we eat. We wear clothes other people make. We speak a language that other people developed. We use a mathematics that other people evolved… I mean, we’re constantly taking things. It’s a wonderful, ecstatic feeling to create something that puts it back in the pool of human experience and knowledge.”

Live in a way that is ethically responsible. Try to make a difference in this world and contribute to the higher good. You’ll find it gives more meaning to your life and it’s a great antidote to boredom. There is always so much to be done. And talk to others about what you are doing. Don’t preach or be self-righteous, or fanatical about it, that just puts people off, but at the same time, don’t be shy about setting an example, and use opportunities that arise to let others know what you are doing.

5. Steve Jobs said: “There’s a phrase in Buddhism, ‘Beginner’s mind.’ It’s wonderful to have a beginner’s mind.”

It is the kind of mind that can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything. Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement.

6. Steve Jobs said: “We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.”

Reams of academic studies over the decades have amply confirmed television’s pernicious mental and moral influences. And most TV watchers know that their habit is mind-numbing and wasteful, but still spend most of their time in front of that box. So turn your TV off and save some brain cells. But be cautious, you can turn your brain off by using a computer also. Try and have an intelligent conversation with someone who plays first person shooters for 8 hours a day. Or auto race games, or role-playing games.

7. Steve Jobs said: “I’m the only person I know that’s lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year…. It’s very character-building.”

Don’t equate making mistakes with being a mistake. There is no such thing as a successful person who has not failed or made mistakes, there are successful people who made mistakes and changed their lives or performance in response to them, and so got it right the next time. They viewed mistakes as warnings rather than signs of hopeless inadequacy. Never making a mistake means never living life to the full.

8. Steve Jobs said: “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.”

Over the last decade, numerous books featuring lessons from historical figures have appeared on the shelves of bookstores around the world. And Socrates stands with Leonardo da Vinci, Nicholas Copernicus, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as a beacon of inspiration for independent thinkers. But he came first. Cicero said of Socrates that, “He called philosophy down from the skies and into the lives of men.” So use Socrates’ principles in your life, your work, your learning, and your relationships. It’s not about Socrates, it’s really about you, and how you can bring more truth, beauty and goodness into your life everyday.

9. Steve Jobs said: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”

Did you know that you have big things to accomplish in life? And did you know that those big things are getting rather dusty while you pour yourself another cup of coffee, and decide to mull things over rather than do them? We were all born with a gift to give in life, one which informs all of our desires, interests, passions and curiosities. This gift is, in fact, our purpose. And you don’t need permission to decide your own purpose. No boss, teacher, parent, priest or other authority can decide this for you. Just find that unique purpose.

10. Steve Jobs said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Are you tired of living someone else’s dream? No doubt, its your life and you have every right to spend it in your own individual way without any hurdles or barriers from others. Give yourself a chance to nurture your creative qualities in a fear-free and pressure-free climate. Live a life that YOU choose and be your own boss.