Steve Jobs and strategy: Sometimes the important thing is what he didn’t do

Steve Jobs and strategy: Sometimes the important thing is what he didn’t do

Richard Rumelt, an expert on business strategy whose book I am reading, on his website provides an interesting list of what Steve Jobs did not do at Apple:

Many people and companies want to emulate Apple and study what the company has done. I believe that in trying to learn from Steve Jobs and Apple it is very useful to pay attention to what he did not do. In compiling this short list, I have used ideas and phrases in common use by managers and business consultants:

He did not “drive business success by a relentless focus on performance metrics.” Success came to Apple by having successful products and strategies, not by chasing metrics. He did not “motivate high performance by tying incentives to key strategic success factors.” Apple did not run a decentralized system based on pressuring individuals to deliver targeted business results. He did not have a strategy “built through participation by all levels to achieve a consensus which resolves key differences in perspectives and values.” Strategy at Apple is essentially driven from the top. He did not waste time on the delicate distinctions among “missions,” “visions,” and “strategies.” He did not use acquisitions to hit “strategic growth goals.” Growth was the outcome of successful product development and accompanying business strategies. He did not seek to engineer higher margins by chasing rust-belt concepts of “economies of scale.” He left such antics to HP

In his book, by contrast, Rumelt offers on page 259 a handy list of what Jobs did do:

(1) imagine a product that is ‘insanely great,’

(2) assemble a small team of the very best engineers and designers in the world,

(3) make the product visually stunning and easy to use, pouring innovation into the user interface,

(4) tell the world how cool and trendy the product is with innovative advertising.

Tom again: Meanwhile, I was struck by another observer’s less astute supposed example of Jobs’ toxic leadership. In fact, what Jobs did strikes me as simply enforcing accountability — which is what leaders should do:

“Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?”

“You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation,” he told them. “You should hate each other for having let each other down.”

Jobs ended by replacing the head of the group, on the spot.