After I read the news about Steve Jobs stepping back as Apple’s CEO, I was going back in time, digging in my memories and experiences, since the first day I started working in an IT company. I came up with a really simple conclusion that needs some explanation. It’s so simple that just saying it, has no effect. But it’s really powerful.
I have a long experience working with workaholics and micromanagers. I’m wrong if I put these two profiles together. A micromanager can be a workaholic but not all workaholics are micromanagers. In fact many of them are not managers at all.
I know how these profiles behave, how they think. I know how to predict many of their actions, in fact they are very predictable. I know how bad they can be for a company, how much they can damage a working environment. Sometimes they can also be useful, but it’s much better if they never have total power and are managed by somebody else that knows exactly what kind of people they’re dealing with. They are not bad or good people, in fact their behavior roots are very complex.
After reading many articles about Steve Jobs, his personality, about glimpses of his life and stories from people that know him; there was something that wasn’t clear to me. He is usually described as a workaholic and a micromanager. Many people now is saying that this, hypothetical “qualities”, are good for a CEO and maybe many people will try to get inspired by those descriptions. Well, I don’t know him, but thinking about what he did and what Apple was doing under his control, makes me think completely different.
I read a story (worth reading) today in Google+, from Vic Gundotra that inspired me to write this post. He talks about Steve Jobs calling him by phone, on a Sunday morning, talking about the yellow gradient of the second O in the Google icon on the iPhone. How do you interpret that? Obviously that Steve is a workaholic and a micromanager. But wait a minute. I’m pretty sure he was right about the yellow gradient of that icon. Nobody else would have changed it, or even care about it. So, who had to do it then? Someone that really cares about doing things well: Steve Jobs.
So let’s think about this from a different approach. Think about all the things you think are really well done, from a refrigerator, a car, a phone, whatever, and put them in one set. Then do the opposite, you will find that it’s much easier to find things that have been just done but not well done. You can have a Windows PC and it can help you to perform common operations on a computer, but if you compare it with a Mac, you will notice the difference. Operations are the same, the purpose is the same but almost every corner in the the Apple machine is well designed or at least, they really tried to do it well, and that’s important.
So, do you think that Steve Jobs behavior can just be classified as a workaholic and a micromanager? If you ever worked with that kind of people, do you think that they can achieve, what Steve did? To be disruptive in technology you need to be able to see the big picture, to make an abstraction of the tiny world that surrounds everyone of us and think differently. Somebody that gets trapped in a compulsive behavior denotes his/her incapacity to perform such abstraction from their environment. So, do you still think that the key is being, apparently, a workaholic and a micromanager? I don’t think so. There is much more behind that. If we look at the root problem, it’s easy to realize that sooner or later somebody has to do things well to achieve success. What if somebody else noticed that the yellow gradient was wrong and was willing to change it? Do you think that Steve would have been there, spending his time taking care even of that tiny detail if everybody took care of details willing to get things well done? I don’t know, maybe, but probably not.
I remember a painful time with a micromanager I worked with years ago. I like to take care about details and get things well done without having a bad impact on production. I didn’t even know that I wanted to do things well, it was just the way I felt comfortable. He was the opposite, he micromanaged me in every possible way, telling me even how to code stuff that he had no idea about. He forced me to take wrong paths because usually a micromanager is a paranoid that thinks that only him is the right guy to do the job. At the end, his interventions were useless and made me waste a lot of time that I could spend improving my work. Later he realized I was right. We still had time to fix it but, as the project worked, his mentality followed with the “who cares, as far as it works!!” mentality.
This mentality is the root of every thing that gets done, but that never will get well done!
This is the big difference. You can improve that icon, setting the right yellow to the second O. It’s not a waste of time. Tiny details make a big difference when they merge in the final product.
If you lead, if you are responsible for a project and you care to get things well done, if you care about details, about the big picture and realize that it’s made by all those tiny insignificant parts, if you just care! If you love to see the job done perfectly and beautifully, but you are alone… what will you become if nobody else cares and think that you are just an obsessive person? You become like Steve Jobs, and, in that case, you have to carry all the weight and do it by yourself.
To conclude: it’s hard for me to believe that he is a real, by nature micromanager. Maybe he is a workaholic and a forced micromanager. Just taking a look to Apple products and how they are always ahead of time from everybody else, gives a clue of what is the behavioral pattern that he wanted to be embedded in the company.
This is the inspiration I want to take from all this. I will always try to keep “getting things well done”. I didn’t really realize about this subtle-different-simple concept before, until now. I loved to see things getting closer to perfection and never reaching it, but I didn’t realize that the main stream just don’t care as far as they are not the consumers.
I’ll keep this in mind for all my applications. Even if it’s a free app, even if it’s just a prototype, even if the app produces no profit at all, adding a little constant effort and just having the will to take care of the whole thing, keeping in mind that a perfect whole is made by it’s tiny perfect parts, is the most important quality to get things well done.