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It’s Not the Myth, But the Fight Over the Man

Steve Jobs and Walt Mossberg

Oh my, Decoding Steve Jobs: Trust the Art, Not the Artist” is shit hitting the fan. Today, for some strange reason. Steve has got to be one of the most controversial chief executives of modern times. Beloved by the Mac faithful, praised by Wall Street analysts and cursed by many others, he is Mr. Love Him or Hate Him.

Yesterday, Pete Mortensen (at Cult of Mac) posted “Fast Company Co-Founder Has it Right: Steve’s Not a Role Model.” He generally praised Bill’s take on Steve:

Apparently, it’s deeply offensive to suggest that what makes Steve great are the exact qualities that typically make for bad management at most companies. He micro-manages every aspect of Apple, has been known to fire people with minimal cause, and perennially runs the risk of out-shining his company— which is particularly problematic when his health problems continue to cast into doubt his long-term prospects as CEO.

What Taylor is pointing out should be self-evident: Steve is a once-in-a-generation genius, and the reason he can break all of the rules is because he’s an extraordinary individual. If you want to compete with him and be great yourself, the worst possible thing you can do is try to act like him.

Vincent Ferrari (at Apple Thoughts) apparently finds Bill and his opinions to be highly offensive, and he goes on the offensive. Vincent writes:

The truth is, there’s nothing about Bill Taylor that equates to real-world business experience. Unlike Jobs, Taylor has never been a CEO of a company. In his own bio he calls himself a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur, although except for founding the massive flop Fast Company which, as far as I know, no one outside of Silicon Valley reads at all, none of his business ventures have brought him any great successes otherwise he wouldn’t be blogging for a publication.

He may be a successful writer, but he’s not been a successful CEO, proving that he’s probably spent entirely too much time talking about business theory and not enough time actually doing business. At least he’s good at linkbaiting, though.

By contrast, Ian Betteridge (at Technovia) agrees with Pete:

Pete’s bang on the money here. Jobs does a million things that would be disastrous for 99.99% of other managers to copy. He’s a one-off, and while there are lessons that other businesses can learn from Apple, there’s few lessons about management that you can learn from the personal style or Steve.

I purposely have not excerpted from Bill Taylor’s post. It’s worth a read and forming your own opinion.

What I’ve learned from personal experience, writing about Steve Jobs touches off deep emotions in some people. There really is a cult of personality here, which, by the way, is an important aspect missing from Bill’s post.

Steve Jobs is a master marketer, purveyor of good taste and pitchman for hope. Apple products consistently focus on features that are easy to sell and imbue aspiration. Meaning: Your life will be better for using them.

I won’t debate the appropriateness or manner of Steve’s management style. But I will say this: He consistently demonstrates good taste, and that’s not an attribute you can teach someone.

3 Comments

  1. Full disclosure: I’ve never so much as managed a herd of yaks in my life.

    I think with management as with engineering and most things you cannot just copy one aspect and expect a good result or at least not the same result in your product / company with all the other component/cultural differences.

    Different companies also require different management styles. If what’s written is true, then even Jobs knows that as his approach with Pixar is very different and hands off with John Lasetter (?) basically runs the show.

    Developers and engineers that live and breathe their work need to be handled and encouraged very differently to say management accountants or fast food chain employees.
    Engineers in particular i think have this bad habit of resisting their superiors if they don’t respect them technically or feel their managers don’t fully understand and appreciate every detail of what they created.

    Aside: It would be funny if there actually were CEOs and managers out there copying the superficial aspects of Jobs just like some companies copy the superficial top layer of Apple’s products…

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  2. Bill Gates was not exactly a nice manager either. I hear stories of him screaming in the face of employees. Just the look on his face at the Microsoft Media Center demo was enough to convince me that he was not someone you would want to work for.

    Bill seems to be a bully, whereas Steve is a perfectionist. They will both shout at you but for different reasons. Bill’s great way to motivate employees was to tell them that all their ideas were the worst he had ever heard (except MS Bob which was probably a great idea).

    Plus, he is just plain weird sometimes, apparently this is the same nodding he does when you are trying to have a meeting with him (just before he tells you that you are stupid).

    They are both trying to control people which is essentially the basis of management. Everyone has their own method which fits with their style. I think perfectionist is better than bully. If you are a perfectionist and you are passionate then you are going to shout at people.

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  3. Joe, This is off-topic but some blog suggestions anyway:

    could you post your thoughts on the Olympus Pen
    and a comparison in your photo workflow between your time on windows and mac

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