Amid the “best in class”, “the nation’s favourite” and “the most admired” chicanery of corporate branding, Steve Jobs towered like a lighthouse of complete and utter conviction.
Going through transcripts of his addresses and presentations, it is astounding to see how many times he uses the phrase “we think it’s the best...” or a close equivalent, to describe a new product. As many insiders have revealed, Jobs was utterly convinced of every word he said. Sure there is plenty of showmanship. What are those “one-more-thing” afterthoughts but delicious mass manipulation?
But, and this is why his productive lifetime remained epochal, Jobs wasn’t reading out spiel. He meant what he said. And he said quite a few things. First of all, this was what Apple thought was the best. Not the market. Not analysts. Often not even consumers. Apple decided what the bar for excellence was. And beat it.
Secondly, this was not what could be the best. This was the best. He had no doubts at all.
Where did this conviction come from? By all accounts, Jobs’ unshakeable belief in his company came from obliterating every “best practice for leaders and managers” doled out at business schools everywhere.
He hired great people, as CEOs are supposed to. But then he incorporated them into a flat, fast organization that radiated around a central figure: himself. Companies are supposed to work with processes and systems. Here Jobs was the ultimate process and system.
He obsessed over everything from fonts to the packaging and the colours on the boxes. Management gurus would have been appalled at his reluctance to delegate.
When companies make mistakes they are supposed to unleash a PR machinery immediately. Apple would react slowly, almost too slowly, but decisively. And often Jobs cleaned up the mess himself, without hiding behind a spokesperson. Problems once solved, stayed solved.
The consumer is supposed to be king. The consumer is supposed to know best. Which explains the managerial obsession with market research and focus groups. Jobs loathed them. He once said: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Firms are meant to launch products to cater to every niche in the market. And thus optimise returns. Students use iPhones. CEOs use the same iPhones. There have been only five models of iPhones. Other companies launch as many models each month.
But most of all, Jobs rarely sold a product he wouldn’t use himself. He thought different. He broke all the rules. Ultimately his anarchy brought brilliant order to our lives.
Innovator, business leader or visionary: How will the world remember Steve Jobs? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org