Leadership lessons of Steve Jobs, pt 8 & 9

If you're looking for the benchmark of detail, Jobs was it. Here we look at his focus on Impute and Push for Perfection.

8. Impute.
Mike Markkula was an early mentor of Jobs and he encouraged three principles for Jobs to work by – EMPATHY, FOCUS AND IMPUTE. For those of you like me curious to understand the actual definition of impute, it is thus – ‘to assign as a characteristic’.

Impute became a key doctrine of Jobs and over his career came to realise that people do judge a book by its cover. People form an impression of a product on the basis of how it is packaged and presented, products are very much judged by their cover. Unpacking an Apple product is a tactile experience and Jobs was obsessive over the detail of presentation, colours and design and knew that the box set the tone for how the product was perceived.

Apple products were not just an item to buy, for Jobs it needed to be a part of the family, add value, be friendly, deferential and at one’s service. The iMac handle was another case in point, it was costly to produce and proved a challenging business proposal to implement. However Jobs was resilient and steered it through, for him it was a point of difference, like no other handle in the industry, sleek, modern and served a purpose.

This story says to me that Jobs was a leader who truely achieved Great Work. His leadership style was such that he was someone willing to challenge the status quo, someone willing to propose the most expensive handle ever because it was a point of difference. He did not see the handle as a cost, but a characteristic of his product and something the customer deserved. In these paragraphs we have indeed mentioned two of the three leadership chararacteristics that enable us to achieve our Great Work – Focus, Resilience and Courage.

9. Push for Perfection.
This is a lesson that Jobs took from his father, a simple childhood experience of helping to build a fence that stayed with Jobs and taught him a key lesson. That lesson being that when you build a fence, in order to show true craftsmanship and quality, the back of that fence needs to be constructed as carefully as the front.

This was a life rule that Jobs applied at Apple, when he wasn’t satisfied the team went back to the drawing board no matter how far down the line they were. The iPhone for instance was initially designed in an aluminum case, when the prototype appeared Jobs just had to admit that ‘I just don’t love it’, for him it was just too masculine, so Ives and his team went back to working nights and weekends to re-design.

With the iPad the edges were too square, it wasn’t easy to elegantly and fluidly pick up and scoop away, you had to snatch it off the table. This was not good enough for Jobs so it was back to the drawing board to design a rounded edge and indeed redesign the connector ports that themselves had to be redesigned in order to accommodate this new rounded shape, purely for the perfection of lifting an iPad more easily and fluidly from a table.

This sense of perfection even stretched to engineers signing their name on every completed circuit board that was made, these boards were perfection in terms of neatness and organisation and yet a part the consumer would never see. To Jobs his mantra was ‘real artists sign their work; I want it as beautiful as possible, even when tightly sealed in a box’.