You are not Steve Jobs
A young CEO storms through his start-up, a tiny Godzilla, crushing the feelings of his staff like so many Japanese paper maché buildings. He rubs his forehead in meetings and loudly ponders why no one is as smart as he is. No ideas are to be considered for the product unless he initiated them. He is trying his damnedest to be just like his recently departed hero — Mr. Steve Jobs.
Now, here’s where I burn my bridge and never work at Apple ever again. I only have two personal experiences with Steve Jobs:
- In my first two weeks of being hired, he cut in line in front of me and a co-worker at the office cafeteria sushi kiosk. I said to my co-worker, “Who is this douche?” as I had never seen an Apple keynote at that point. My co-worker whispered, “That’s STEVE.” Okay, I noted to myself, Steve is a bit of a dick.
- I worked on the MobileMe team, now iCloud, as an Engineering Project Manager, and we had a notoriously bad launch when we re-branded and created an awesome new product out of .Mac. There were three to four levels of bosses between me and Steve (thankfully) and we had been telling our bosses that we did not feel confident about our launch date for a long time. We gave any number of suggestions of what we could do to launch that wouldn’t be such a giant production, but would totally have worked. Somewhere up the chain of command, it was decided it was not the Apple-way to launch something without a million fireworks. “But it’s the web!” we cried to no avail. We had our marching orders, and we walked single file to our collective doom.
Then it fell down launch night. And all the lovely troopers (because everyone who works at Apple is completely kick-ass and does the hell out of their jobs), worked literally around the clock to fix it. Sleeping under desks, shuttling from hotels nearby, tagging in the next coder for their shift, until it was back up.
Once it was up, we (at least a hundred of us) got called into a meeting with Steve Jobs. We all walked over to the building like we were headed to the guillotine. He stood in front of us and yelled at us, told us that we should be mad at each other, said we could have done a staggered launch and complained that we didn’t even try to do all the things that we (those on the ground floor of production that actually make the fucking products of the world) had been begging to do. It was the world’s best de-motivational speech.
Now, regardless of whether no one in the inner sanctum of dudes-that-Steve-listened-to-at-the-time told him all the things we told our bosses, or who-up-the-chain-of-command was not brave enough to suggest we do something not-Apple-like — this was the system that Steve created. He made himself so fearful and terrible that an entire group of amazing, talented, hard working people, ended up getting screamed at wrongfully. It was his fault that the MobileMe launch went so poorly, not ours.
Even Steve Jobs wasn't Steve Jobs initially. He only outed himself as a giant jerk after he had a company that could afford to have a huge turnover, and he had a pile of minions that hero-worshiped him no matter what he did. He was an abusive husband to an entire company. But at least he had a track record of success. If you do not have his history, maybe consider being nice to your staff. And even if you do, consider this a cautionary tale. The best thing you can do for your product is to have your staff tell you the truth, and listen to it. Godzilla-CEO, you cannot build a product all on your own, you rely on your staff, who you presumably hired because they were smart and competent. If you treat your staff with respect and incorporate their good ideas into your product, they will give you the adoration that people gave Steve, without the downsides that come from ruling with fear. So go forth into the product sphere, play nice, and build great things together with all of the talented people who are working so hard on your behalf. You, your product and your staff will all be better off.