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Lean Lessons from Steve Jobs Being Poked with a Stick

I was working on a project for a consulting client and took a short break to see what was new in the news. I came across an interesting article about a late-night (alcohol-fueled) exchange between a blogger (the one fueled by the alcohol) and Steve Jobs of Apple. It was interesting enough that it drew me in and inspired me to write an extra article on the spot.

What interested me was seeing how a multi-gazillionaire with an incredibly busy plate would handle being poked with a stick at 2:00 in the morning.

I have to say, Jobs carries himself well in the email. There are several aspects of his behavior that can provide lessons to leadership trying to implement Lean.

  1. He has the courage of his convictions. He acts on what he feels is right, even if the decision is unpopular. Implementing Lean puts leaders in the same position when people push back against change.
  2. He doesn’t try to cater to everyone. Apple recognizes that its products are not for everyone, so it focuses on its own customers and doesn’t worry much about what its hardcore opposition thinks. In the same vein, Lean leaders often have to accept the fact that some people will never embrace Lean. For Apple, it simply means not marketing to them. For Lean leaders, unfortunately, it may mean letting some people go.
  3. He focuses on results. In one exchange, Jobs mentions the number of apps Apple sells as an indicator that they are doing something right. This point links back to number 2. Success is defined differently by different people. Jobs, and Apple, knows what it wants to do, and acts in ways to accomplish those goals. In Lean, targets drive actions.
  4. He maintains his composure. Jobs stays even-keeled and stays the course even when he knows he is corresponding to a blogger who is most likely going to post his responses for the world to see. He doesn’t sugar-coat, but he also doesn’t lose his temper. You only do that when #1 above is true. Lean can be taxing for leaders, especially when in times of major change. A sure-fire way to slow down progress is to get emotional in responses to team members.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the blogger in this article works for Gawker, the company involved in the recent dust-up with Apple over the lost/stolen 4G iPhone. That recent bout of bad publicity, though, doesn’t detract from Jobs’ leadership skills.


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