Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs' Favorite Product: The Apple Team
Biographer Walter Isaacson discusses his new book The Innovators and why Steve Jobs was a prickly teambuilder.
Walter Isaacson is a renowned biographer, CEO of the Aspen Institute, and previously the chairman of CNN and managing editor of TIME magazine. He is the author of Einstein: His Life and Universe, Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Steve Jobs, and most recently Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.
You know Steve Jobs was one of those romantic innovators who comes up with great ideas, has real passion, real vision and that prickly personality, that very pushy reality distorting personality that can get something done. However, in writing about Steve Jobs I realized something interesting. It wasn’t just his one vision. It was his ability to create a team around him, his ability to work in partnership with Steve Wozniak. You go down the list with dozens of people all the way to Tim Cook. And not only to work in partnership but to create a collaborative team around him of great designers like Jony Ive and software people like Phil Schiller and Johnny Rubinstein. And I once asked Steve Jobs, you know, what product are you the proudest of. And I thought he might say the iPod or the iPhone or the iPad, whatever, the Mac. And he said, you know, making a product is hard but making a team that can continually make products is even harder. The product I’m most proud of is Apple and the team I built at Apple. And that’s when I moved to this new book, The Innovators, because I wanted to say it’s not just about the visionary, it’s about the visionary being able to execute on the vision by finding the right people to be collaborative and creative with. So with Steve Jobs even though we think of him as being a tough boss or we think of him as having sort of a prickly personality, there were people who were so loyal to Steve they would walk through walls for him. He developed around him the tightest, most loyal, most integrated team in Silicon Valley.
You know, Steve Jobs was very intuitive in the way he made decisions. He wasn’t somebody who deeply reflected or spent a whole lot of time hashing it through. But he would work with everybody from the hardware designers like Jony Ive to the software people and just sort of say no, that doesn’t feel right. Sometimes he used a little bit stronger language than that. Or it’s genius, it’s perfect, it’s awesome, it’s incredible. But, you know, don’t try this at home. People come up to me sometimes and say I’m like Steve Jobs - when somebody does something that stinks I tell them it stinks. Yeah and have you invented the iPod? Have you invented an iPhone? No, Steve Jobs didn’t just have a tough personality. He also had a charismatic visionary personality and he brought people in.
And he really could inspire people because even though sometimes he couldn’t articulate exactly what he wanted he could sure point the way to getting it there. He also believed in physical space as necessary for collaboration. We think maybe we can collaborate in the digital age by doing it virtually from afar but when he built the Pixar building and when he designed what will be the new headquarters for Apple it was all about making sure people had serendipitous encounters. That they came through the atrium. That they walked through the perimeter where the light was in the new Apple headquarters. Where they would just bump into people and say what are you working on. And then naturally collaborate. But he felt that, you know, just by walking through Jony Ives design studio and touching a few things and talking to people he could collaborate by being in a physical space better than he could do it by Skype or email or, you know, Google hangouts. So Steve’s team building skills really sort of came from the force of his personality and being with him.
Walter Isaacson discusses how Steve Jobs may have had a prickly personality, but his ability to build loyal and innovative teams was one of his greater talents.
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