Leadership lessons of Steve Jobs, pt7

It's all about focus and there's no such thing as 'can't'...

7. Bend Reality.

Steve Jobs had an infamous ability to push people to do the impossible, what he dubbed as his ‘reality distortion field’, a Star Trek term that was fictional on screen but not in the world of Steve Jobs. Life’s rules did not apply in the eyes of Jobs and there was no concept of ‘can’t’.

Reflecting on her experience as part of the Mac team, Debbie Coleman described her experience as ‘you did the impossible because you did not realise it was impossible’. For me, this runs parallel to why it is important to teach children new sports at an early age, indeed to teach them anything. In their world there is no risk and therefore no fear, they are not even aware that risk may exist and the rules of the game have not been defined yet, so they just go for it and achieve and achieve quickly. It is with our journey of experience and learning that we become consciously incompetent and self aware and at adulthood we lose that sense of the unrestricted ‘can do’. This was a real difference in Jobs as a leader, his clarity and focus on his vision and what he wanted was second to none and little got in the way of achieving it.

A great example of Jobs pushing the boundaries was (again) during the night shift at Atari. Jobs was focused on developing a game called ‘Breakout’. Steve Wozniak his colleague at the time (and future Apple co-founder) said it would take months of development, Jobs view was that it should take four days and sure enough working tirelessly for four days, Wozniak delivered.

Larry Kenyon was another man who achieved the extraordinary under Jobs’ influence. In the early days Jobs had a complaint that the boot up time was too long for the Mac, his argument being that if there were 5 million Mac users, an additional 10 seconds boot up time equated to c.300 million hours lost per year or 100 lifetimes. Kenyon got the message and duly went to work, in  just four weeks he had re-engineered the boot up to be 28 seconds faster. Jobs defining question to Kenyon to make this happen was: ‘If it saved a life, could you find a way to have 10 seconds off the boot time?’ Whatever your view on his leadership style, inspirational or bulldozing, one thing is evident, it inspired people to meet extraordinary challenges and achieve extraordinary feats.

Jobs even influenced whole companies to completely change direction. Corning, a US company, was in the LCD screen business and in the 1960s had developed the patent of a product called ‘Gorilla Glass’. This was toughened glass manufactured by a unique chemical exchange process that enabled excellent visual quality, making the screen scratch proof and exactly what Jobs was looking for at the time. This hit Jobs’ radar and he was determined to engage Corning to manufacture Apple screens with this technology. Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning explained to Jobs that it was just a patent at the moment and the company was not yet manufacturing Gorilla Glass. Jobs looked at Weeks and despite all the engineering challenges that he was challenged with, had two simple pieces of advice: 1. ‘Don’t be scared’ and 2. ‘Get your mind around it’. Sure enough, Weeks broke the news to manufacturing, they were to exit their comfort zone entirely and shift their focus from manufacturing LCD screens to making Gorilla Glass for Apple products full time. No gentle transition or ‘let’s see how it goes’, bosh – job done, that was the influence of Jobs right there. They did it in six months and have done ever since, next time you look at an Apple screen, that’s Gorilla Glass made by Corning.

 

 

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