Working with Steve Jobs

An article by Glenn Reid on “What it’s Really Like Working with Steve Jobs” is worth reading because it counters a false image of how visionary leaders work.

First, even the best product people don’t design by divine revelation. Reid says has this to say about building product:

It is a process which requires understanding the parameters, the goals, and the gives and takes. Stretch what’s possible, use technologies that are good, rein it in when the time comes, polish it and ship it.… It wasn’t magic, it was hard work, thoughtful design, and constant iteration.

Second, great leaders—even those with highly developed intuition and excellent judgment—don’t dominate by sheer force of personality, with their own ideas winning out simply because of who they are. Reid says:

There was kind of an approach we took, unconsciously, which I characterize in my mind as a “cauldron”. There might be 3 or 4 or even 10 of us in the room, looking at, say, an iteration of iPhoto. Ideas would come forth, suggestions, observations, whatever. We would “throw them into the cauldron”, and stir it, and soon nobody remembered exactly whose ideas were which. This let us make a great soup, a great potion, without worrying about who had what idea. This was critically important, in retrospect, to decouple the CEO from the ideas. If an idea was good, we’d all eventually agree on it, and if it was bad, it just kind of sank to the bottom of the pot. We didn’t really remember whose ideas were which—it just didn’t matter.

Jobs was a master product designer and a forceful personality. But the way he and his team worked was the way any team should work—iterate constantly and let the best ideas win.

Thanks to Andrew Miner, Blake Scholl, David Crawford, and Keith Schacht for commenting on a draft of this post.

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