"And the beat goes on…………….."
The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Walter Issacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute (and author of the Steve Jobs biography) details some of the lessons that can be learned from Steve Jobs' extraordinary success as an innovator in transforming how we communicate and do business.
Several of these caught my attention as spot on relevant to our work.
"When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company."
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” Jobs told Issacson. And that's an important lesson for arts organizations - whether talking about fundraising, marketing, programming, or audience development. It is critical in any business endeavor to zero in on what you need to do, and jettison all the rest. The most successful people in the business world I have ever met (and I've been fortunate to meet a number of highly successful people), all shared that common trait of being able to put aside all the distractions and to focus on what they needed to do to succeed.
"Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity. It takes a lot of hard work,” he said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
People in all businesses and in much of their personal lives make the mistake of making things more complicated than they need to be. Often, the simple, direct solution just seems like it's not enough, when, in truth, it is precisely enough. We, in the arts, would be wise to look at the challenges and tasks we face and try to come up with simple solutions rather than always rushing to embrace layers of complexity where they aren't needed.
Take Responsibiity End to End:
"Jobs and Apple took end-to-end responsibility for the user experience—something too few companies do."
Far, far too often in the arts we ignore this advice. We don't take responsibility for the whole of the user experience. So for a performing arts organization, end to end responsibility includes awareness of, and access to the art form, as well as the art itself, but also includes all the mundane issues that our users encounter - from convenience, scheduling, price and more. I wonder what an arts organization would look like that took that responsibility? I wonder what a foundation would look like that took that responsibility in its relationship with its grantees, or community? I wonder what an advocacy organization would look like that took that responsibility in marshaling its supporters to lobby for its cause?
We think our brand is the art we present. It is, but it's a lot more.
"Jobs’s (in)famous ability to push people to do the impossible was dubbed by colleagues his Reality Distortion Field, after an episode of Star Trek in which aliens create a convincing alternative reality through sheer mental force."
"One day Jobs marched into the cubicle of Larry Kenyon, the engineer who was working on the Macintosh operating system, and complained that it was taking too long to boot up. Kenyon started to explain why reducing the boot-up time wasn’t possible, but Jobs cut him off. “If it would save a person’s life, could you find a way to shave 10 seconds off the boot time?” he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if five million people were using the Mac and it took 10 seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to 300 million or so hours a year—the equivalent of at least 100 lifetimes a year." After a few weeks Kenyon had the machine booting up 28 seconds faster."
The point is that we might accomplish much more than we do if we didn't start out believing that what we can do is limited. Effective leaders push; they demand their people break new ground, come up with new solutions, do what hasn't been done before. We won't always succeed with this attitude, but we'll likely rarely succeed without it. Complacency is the enemy; self-doubt is the enemy; timidity is the enemy. We need to take a lesson from the artists we represent and push the boundaries; demand more of ourselves; set the bar higher.
"When Jobs was designing the iPhone, he decided that he wanted its face to be a tough, scratchproof glass, rather than plastic. He met with Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning, who told him that Corning had developed a chemical exchange process in the 1960s that led to what it dubbed “Gorilla glass.” Jobs replied that he wanted a major shipment of Gorilla glass in six months. Weeks said that Corning was not making the glass and didn’t have that capacity. “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was unfamiliar with Jobs’s Reality Distortion Field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but Jobs had repeatedly shown that he didn’t accept that premise. He stared unblinking at Weeks. “Yes, you can do it,” he said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.” Weeks recalls that he shook his head in astonishment and then called the managers of Corning’s facility in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, which had been making LCD displays, and told them to convert immediately to making Gorilla glass full-time. “We did it in under six months,” he says. “We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.”
"Jobs’s early mentor Mike Markkula wrote him a memo in 1979 that urged three principles. The first two were “empathy” and “focus.” The third was an awkward word, “impute,” but it became one of Jobs’s key doctrines. He knew that people form an opinion about a product or a company on the basis of how it is presented and packaged. “Mike taught me that people do judge a book by its cover,” he told Issacson".We pay a great deal of attention to our packaging - in how we curate exhibits and in the design of our space, in our sets and costumes, in our graphics - but how much time do we spend on the whole of the packaging of our organizations, our products and brand? People judge us not just based on the art we present, but on a spectrum of impressions and perceptions about who we are, what we do and how we do it.
Not every leader can be a Steve Jobs, but every leader can learn lessons from all those people who change the rules and open new vistas. There were a lot of things about Steve Jobs that people didn't like, but success isn't about being popular. We talk relentlessly about innovation and creative thinking. We need to put that talk into action, and the above are a few ideas that might help us to do that.
Have a great week.