Putting a dent in the universe and the art of selling dreams

by Maria Sporre on August 17, 2012

Apple would probably not be Apple without Steve Jobs.

I began my series on business leaders and entrepreneurs last week with the notion that a company’s HR efforts should be performed to ensure the  flow and thus create a culture that enhances the success of the business idea. Apple, which Steve Jobs personified, is in many ways a cultural phenomenon.

thinkdifferent-logoGoing back to my opening sentence, Apple would not be what it is without Steve Jobs, the most interesting lessons one can draw from the Apple culture steams from the leadership of Jobs and his ability to do things his way.

Walter Isaacson who wrote the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs has put together 14 key factors to Jobs and Apples success:

  1. Focus – Deciding what to not to do is just as important as deciding what to do. Focus on the area where you excel – Focus on the three things that will move you and your company forward.
  2. Simplify – Let go of the technical specification and focus on the customer value. And this is how he found new ways of doing business. He would scan the industries and ask “who is making things more complicated than they need to be?” and then simplify it; portable music players is one example resulting in iTunes and the iPod.
  3. Take responsibility to the end – Apple take full responsibility of the user experience, from the micro processers to the act of buying that iPhone in an Apple store. This steams from his personality of always having to be in control and his strive for perfection.
  4. When behind, leapfrog – Instead of just improving existing product, outcompete yourself to be one step ahead of your competitors. This is where Apple succeeds with the iPod and iPhone and companied like Sony fails.
  5. Put products before profits – Money should never be the goal, which ends up meaning all the difference from who you hire, who gets promoted and what you discuss in meetings.
  6. Don’t be a slave to focus groups – Apple made their products for themselves. You cannot ask the customers what they want you should know what your customer wants.
  7. Bend reality – Jobs ability to push people beyond what seemed possible was called his Reality Distortion Field from an episode of Star Trek where aliens created an alternative reality through mind force. His ability to do things his way and that normal rules didn’t apply to him inspired the people who worked for him to the impossible; simply because they didn’t realize it was impossible.
  8. Impute – He made sure that the product came in a package that would transfer the right message.
  9. Push for perfection – Jobs would not be satisfied until the product was perfect, from the inside of the product to the end user experience. When building the Macintosh he made the engineers make the chips line up neatly so the circuit board would look nice, even though no one would see it. “A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of the cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it”. You are true artists, he said, and when the boards were done he had the members of the team sign them as true artist.
  10. Tolerate only “A” players – Jobs hired the best and was just as rued to them, “it is not my job to be nice”. One can question if his behavior was necessary but as he puts it himself, he had the A players who could get any job they wanted to but they stayed. In the end his rudeness was accompanied by his ability to inspire, which resulted in amazing products. He believed that if you hire really good people you don’t have to baby them. “By expecting them to do great thing, you can get them to do great things.”
  11. Engage face-to-face – Jobs was a strong believer of the creative meeting and the office buildings are designed to promote unplanned encounters and collaborations. He had meetings with the executives without an agenda discussing ideas. He hated formal presentations and slide shows were banned. “If people knew what they were talking about they wouldn’t need PowerPoint.”
  12. Know both the big picture and the details – Jobs was a visionary as well as a magician with the details.
  13. Combine the humanities and science – Jobs combined the science and the arts in a way that fostered innovation. This is crucial for any company who want to have a creative edge.
  14. Stay hungry, stay foolish – Even as a business leader he kept complemented his personality with a hippie nonconformist part of himself. In every aspect of his life all of his contradictory sides were reflected.

On the Apple website’s job section this is translated to “Amaze yourself. Amaze the world” where the job is described as being challenging, inspirational and something that you can be proud of, saying that the candidate will be part of something big.All that Job was emphasizing on in is leadership transfers to their employer value proposition.

At Apple every detail matters; from every piece of packaging to every swipe of the finger. Simplicity is not something simple, it is hard work and means forever asking “how can we do it better?”. Creativity is everywhere, even at the HR department or in Finance.

apple store teamBut not everyone at Apple is highly paid engineers and executives running the show from the headquarters in Cupertino. So many as 30 000 of the 43 000 Apple employees in the USA work in the Apple stores. Last year, the Apple stores take in more money on their sales than any other retail store in the states, however, the workers reaps little of the success being some of the lower paid in the service industry.

These workers are from the beginning welcomed to the apple culture with a standing ovation on their first day of training. The phrase “enriching people’s lives” echoes through the stores and people do believe that doing something grander than just selling computers. This keeps the wages down.

The product itself has a built-in fan base that ensures a steady intake of job applicants. That is why the company can pay low hourly wage and no commission to college degree students who can move goods up to millions each year.

Some may find it strange that the stores have the no commission policy but this is no coincidence. Apple fosters a culture where the goal is to find the customers the right product not the most expensive one. Working on commission is also thought to undermine camaraderie and team work. They even use terms to enhance the Apple culture; calling sales people specialists.

Steve-Jobs-iphone1In the recruitment process the leadership is vivid. To ensure top quality candidates, people who are later than 3 minutes are turned down immediately, no matter whom you are or what you’ve done. This is aiming for perfection.

There are many rejoctories raising criticism towards the leadership of Steve Jobs saying he was too hard against and demanding of the people he worked with. While followers see the result as a proof of how well it works, trying to copy is leadership traits. Many have probably tried and failed. Perhaps the real truth of his success as a leader goes down to his ability to master the message. He was one of the best communicators and story tellers. He knew exactly what image he was portraying of himself and this is made it possible to build a culture around him, a culture that has proved to be a key factor to success.

About Maria Sporre :

Management Consultant at Bearing Consulting, with deep knowledge in Talent Management, Innovation Management, Orgnisational Development and Business Development with a wide range of industry experience. Master Degree from Stockholm School of Economics and In-depth experience at the operational and executive level as HR Manager.

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