As most everyone did, I read “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. It was extremely well written – thorough and brutally honest. While certainly Jobs route to success is not one that I would desire myself it worked for him and there were a number of things I took from the book. Many people wrote articles as a follow up to the book but the best was actually written by Walter Isaacson himself for the Harvard Business Review in a piece titled “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs." Here are a few excerpts of those characteristics penned by Isaacson. In yellow italics are my thoughts as to how these lessons relate to the world of coaching/teaching.
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
After he righted the company, Jobs began taking his “top 100” people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards, because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down – and then cross of the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”
Focus was ingrained in Job’s personality…he relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions.
In today's world of coaching, I believe this becomes more difficult. There are so many more hats that coaches were today and they are pulled on from a variety of directions. The best coaches are the ones that know and remember to, as Stephen Covey says "keep the main thing the main thing."
Job’s Zenlike ability to focus was accompanied by the related instinct to simply things by zeroing in on their essence and eliminating unnecessary components. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
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 simply, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
Without questions, simplicity makes the most important component in teaching. All great teachers are able to take complex things and reduce them to their most simplest form. To me this is one of the most important challenges we have on a daily basis as coaches. Take what we teach and work to make it as simple as possible without losing the benefits necessary for supreme execution.
PUT PRODUCTS BEFORE PROFITS
When Jobs and his small team designed the original Macintosh, in the early 1980s, his injunction was to make it “insanely great.” He never spoke of profit maximization or cost trade-offs. “Don’t worry about price, just specify the computer’s abilities,” he told the original team leader. At his first retreat with the Macintosh team, he began by writing a maxim on the whiteboard: “Don’t compromise.”
Simply put, know what your program stands for and make that your guiding light. Don't let things get in the way of you pushing your program through to the level you desire. I loved the "insanely great" mantra of Jobs. Not "great" -- he wanted "insanely great."
DON’T BE A SLAVE TO FOCUS GROUPS
When Jobs took his original Macintosh team on its first retreat, one member asked whether they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No, Jobs replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.” He invokes Henry Ford’s line “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’”
Caring deeply about what customers want is a much different from continually asking them what they want; it requires intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed. “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
“The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do’ they use their intuition instead,” he recalled. “Intuition is a very powerful thing – more powerful than intellect, in my opinion.”
Again, a tough one for today's coaching -- especially the young coaches. Too many coaches sitting in front of the computer reading the message boards. Sure you have to listen occasionally to alumni, administrators and boosters -- but run your program and do what you think is best in helping it grow.
“You did the impossible because you didn’t realize it was impossible.”
One day Jobs marched into the cubicle of Larry Kenyon, the engineer who was working 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 it 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 great leaders (including coaches) can paint pictures. I read once that vision is the art of seeing the invisible. When Skip Bertman took over the baseball program at LSU, no one cared. They averaged a couple of hundred a game. They had never won. When he retired, LSU had been named "The Program of the Decade" and captured 5 National Championships while annually leading the nation in attendance. When a media person asked his mentor Ron Fraser, "Who would've ever dreamed this happening at LSU?" Coach Frazier quickly replied, "Skip."
Job’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 become one of Job’s key doctrines.
“Mike taught me that people do judge a book a book by its covers,” he told me.
This is an important concept for us to understand as coaches. Certainly we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover -- but people do indeed do this. So the question is how are you executing your program around this concept? Presentation means a lot -- often if you get the opportunity to move forward. A smart, simple attractive "book cover" will get people to want to open the book to its first page. This is important in recruiting. It's important in attracting boosters and season ticket holders. It's incredible important for teaching.
PUSH FOR PERFECTION
During the development of almost every product he ever created, Jobs at a certain point “hit the pause button” and went back to the drawing board because he felt it wasn’t perfect.
Job’s perfectionism extended even to the parts unseen. As a young boy, he had helped his father build a fence around the their backyard and he was told they had to use just as much care on the back of the fence as on the front. “Nobody will ever know,” Steve said. His father replied, “But you will know.” A true craftsman uses a good piece of wood even for the back of a cabinet against the wall, his father explained, and they should do the same for the back of the fence. It was the mark of an artist to have such a passion for perfection.
“Real artists sign their work.”
The key here is to have a passion for excellence in all that your program is responsible for. You can't be undisciplined in little things and expect to be discipline in big things. Demand the you and your staff do their absolute best in all areas of the program -- your players will see that and follow suite.
TOLERATE ONLY “A” PLAYERS
Jobs was famously impatient, petulant, and tough with the people around him. But his treatment of people, though not laudable, emanated from his passion for perfection and his desire to work only the best.
“I don’t think I run roughshod over people,” he said, “but if something sucks, I tell people to their face, It’s my job to be honest.”
“I’ve learned over the years that when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them,” Jobs told me. “By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. Ask any member of that Mac team. They will tell you it was worth the pain.”
Often programs and players will rise to the level of expectations of their leaders. As Sue Gunter would say "Dream big...work hard." It was the essence of what she built at LSU. And make no mistake about it -- you must demand that those involved give you their absolute best at all times.
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he told me. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussion. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
He had the Pixar building designed to promote unplanned encounters and collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” The front doors and main stairs and corridors all led to the atrium; the café and the mailboxes were there; the conference rooms had windows that looked out onto it; and the 600-seat theater and two smaller screening rooms all spilled into it. “Steve’s theory worked from day one,” Lasseter recalls. “I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”
This is another great point for today's coaching. Technology has made it both easy and fashionable to have conversation via text and email. I'm not saying at times it's not necessary but it will never replace the power of a face-to-face meeting. Conversation now becomes unscripted and you can peel back the layers to get to know each other better or to better get the message across that you need. I loved that Don Meyer at Lipscomb had a sign-in sheet that had his players come by the office so he could have some face-time with them.
KNOW BOTH THE BIG PICTURE AND THE DETAILS
Jobs’ passion was applied to issues both large and minuscule. Some CEOs are great at vision; others are managers who know that God is in the details. Jobs was both.
You can't get bogged down with details but you also have to know that they are important. You also have to be able to what details are more important and valuable than other details. It's a delicate juggling act but the best have the ability to see the big picture and know how to paint it with the details.
COMBINE THE HUMANITIES WITH THE SCIENCES
“I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” Jobs told me on the day he decided to cooperate on a biography. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, sad about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
He connected the humanities to the sciences, creativity to technology, arts to engineering.
Yet again another example of having so much technology that we overlook or don't give as much attention to the human development. It reminds me of one of my favorite George Patton quotes: "Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory."
STAY HUNGRY, STAY FOOLISH
Jobs helped write the text for the “Think Different” ads: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes…” If there was any doubt that, consciously or not, he was describing himself, he dispelled it with the last lines: “While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
The key here is to not get complacent and never be shy about taking calculated risks. Don't ever think "I've arrived," or "We've made it." That's the beginning of the end. Continue to drive forward and raise the bar for performance and execution. Being your best is a process not a destination.