Reasons Don’t Matter: A Lesson from Steve Jobs
Stop what you’re doing and think like a Vice President
You’ve heard the cliché. Employers don’t want excuses, they want facts, supporting data, and most importantly, results. They aren’t concerned with your story, just make sure you keep things moving up and to the right.
This isn’t a new idea. This results-driven narrative has been around and in practice for a while now. What we aren’t talking about is that this mindset is growing more common and is now more relevant than ever before.
“If you really want to do it, you do it. There are no excuses.” — Bruce Nauman
Not only do reasons not matter much, but they are mattering less and less in the face of sheer results. We’ve shifted to a world where input and output reign supreme. Not unlike a mathematical function or an industrial factory. There are a couple of logical reasons for this shift over time.
First, organizations are getting flatter and companies are getting bigger. This means that there isn’t necessarily going to be a manager for every few team members. You aren’t going to be micro-managed and monitored. You have more responsibility, more freedom.
This is a cool thing, but it also comes with increased accountability for your production. If you don’t produce, your reasons matter less. There may not have been a manager working directly with you to attest to your reasoning. You are accountable and must deal with the consequences.
Furthermore, there’s more competition now than ever. The workforce is more skilled and working longer hours. We’re producing more than ever and working more efficiently. Because of this, our standards are high. If you aren’t getting the job done then someone else will, and employers are well aware of this.
This isn’t only relevant to the workplace. Let’s consider a common scenario. You go to grab some coffee at your local Starbucks. You hand the cashier some money as input and you stand to the side while you wait for your sugary drink, the output. This is all fine and good until you realize that it’s taking a while. A half-hour later, you finally receive your coffee. It doesn’t matter why it took longer this time. All that matters is that the resulting output wasn’t up to your standards. Might be okay with you, but you’ll stop by a different coffee shop next time you’re pressed for time.
We’ve gone over the results-driven mindset along with the recent shift to prioritizing reasons less and production more. Now let’s turn to a little story about Steve Jobs, as documented by Adam Lashinsky.
Steve used to give employees a little speech when they were promoted to Vice President at Apple…Lashinsky calls it the “Difference Between the Janitor and the Vice President.” Jobs tells the VP that if the garbage in his office is not being emptied regularly for some reason, he would ask the janitor what the problem is. The janitor could reasonably respond by saying, “Well, the lock on the door was changed, and I couldn’t get a key.” It’s an irritation for Jobs, but it’s an understandable excuse for why the janitor couldn’t do his job. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses. “When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs tells newly minted VPs, according to Lashinsky. “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is “crossed when you become a VP.”
In other words, you have no excuse for failure. You are responsible for what happens, and it doesn’t matter what you say about it.
This story still rings true in business today, even more so than it did at the time that Steve used to give this speech. Due to the reasons cited earlier, this Rubicon is crossed far sooner than it used to.
We don’t wait til Vice President status anymore. Chances are that you’ve already crossed this chasm into extreme ownership. You have left the aforementioned ‘Janitor’ crowd and moved to a community where excuses carry little to no weight. Results only.
Try and keep this in mind for your next project. You’re more accountable than you or those around you might think. Look at obstacles, problems, and solutions through this lens.
Or as Steve puts it, think as a Vice President should. No matter what your business card says.
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