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You’re No Steve Jobs

Posted by: csjacobs | Posted on: March 16 , 2013 | Category: NeuroscienceTechnology

I'm hooked--I lust after Apple products. As soon as a new product is released, or even just an iteration of a product, I have to have it.

It's not just the functionality I'm after, but the physical product itself. My Iphone, Ipad, and Macbook Air are works of art, and I experience a rush of aesthetic pleasure when I use them. I feel bad for those people (and a little superior) that have to use those clunky products from competitors.

So I feel gratitude to Steve Jobs when I visit the Apple store, unwrap the packaging of my latest purchase, or use the product for the first time. Jobs was very conscious of his quest, according to the Walter Isaacson biography, to produce products that were a fusion of technology and art.

Steve Jobs

From seminal experiences in the early 1970s, like his travels in India and experiments with LSD, Jobs learned of a more holistic way of thinking. It was less our western "either/or" logic and more an eastern "oneness." When he applied it to products, he realized there didn't need to be a tradeoff between form and function

But whatever his accomplishments in product design, it seems Jobs' wasn't able to extend the "oneness" to the rest of his life. Eschewing bathing, soaking his feet in the toilet to relieve stress, and not acknowledging his natural daughter don't suggest he struck a balance of yin and yang. 

Nor does the way he managed people. With over fifty years of research, we know that effective managers focus on both the task to be done and the interpersonal relationship. What people do and how they do it, reason and emotion, people and production: they are all one.

But Jobs could be dictatorial and brutal to people. Maybe Jobs was successful in spite of himself, because we'll put up with bad behavior when it comes from a genius. But confusing cause with correlation, many managers justify their bad behavior by holding Jobs up as a role model, even though they lack his genius.

Dictators in the corporate world often do produce impressive short-term results, but the long-term suffers. Harold Geneen of ITT was legendary for both bad behavior and results, but after his departure, the company fell apart. 

Perhaps if Jobs had been a better manager, his genius would have been institutionalized. Then there would have been no Apple Maps fiasco and no concerns about the company's ability to continue to innovate by redefining product categories, like the ipod, iphone, and ipad did.

With our new scientific understanding of how people think and work, we now have the tools to manage holistically. By creating an aspirational vision, encouraging participation, and structuring organizations for self-management, managers can build high performing businesses that are also great places to work, both now and in the future.

It doesn't take a genius, prickly or otherwise, to build these kinds of businesses. It just takes patience and the discipline to apply what we know. And it takes the humility to accept our limitations. We're not all Steve Jobs, and that's a good thing.

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