If Steve Jobs Worked for You, you’d probably fire him

If Steve Jobs Worked for You, you'd probably fire himThere is a great deal being said and written about the late, great, Steve Jobs. He was a remarkable innovation leader — and a complex personality. Apple’s tagline of “Think Different” could easily be applied to its charismatic leader. Folks often overlook the personality and thinking style piece and focus on the leadership. After reading another article about his leadership style, it got me thinking –

What if Steve Jobs Worked for You?

Imagine if you will a young Steve Jobs, fresh out of not graduating from college, twenty something, energetic, bright, but not expert. You might hire him because he’d probably interview well. Once on-board you give young Steve something lower-level to do.

You might not see he works long hours because you’re not there at the same time he is.

You might get upset that he makes so many phone calls investigating things that have nothing to do with your business. You might also take issue with his decisions — he should have asked before he ordered that new equipment.

This is 2012, so, young Steve is probably all over the web and social media and knows all the new technology stuff before anybody else. You might think he’s wasting a lot of time. His wacky idea for a whole new way to do your current business is, well, just impossible.

You might not like him much. He’s blunt, then he’s charming, then he’s blunt again. He thinks he knows everything. He tells the truth about the new product idea you’re working on — and it’s a truth that hurts. You don’t want to hear your  new baby “sucks.” He’s arrogant — and your other employees comfirm this, whispering in your ear what a pain in the tush he is.

After a time you start thinking he’s more trouble than he’s worth.

In fact, if Steve Jobs worked for You, right now — you’d probably fire him.

The thing is, Steve Jobs, in another incarnation (that is, somebody with that level of talent and ability to think differently) is out there working for someone right now and is about to get fired. New Steve might be working for you right now. Look closely at your list of trouble makers…

Business leaders often have a very low tolerance for  people who really “think different.” If your business is purring along nicely, and you’re focused on operations, that style, that value, is lost to you. “Different” thinking gets in the way of smooth operations. If you’re in breakthrough innovation mode, you might see his (or her) promise but unless young Steve is empowered to do things, and integrated into teams where his style causes friction, he’ll be more of a thorn in the side than an inspiration.

Creative Thinking Style is something that can be measured. Michael Kirton, PhD the originator of Adaptor-Innovator Theory, would have called Steve a “high innovator” on his KAI scale. According to Kirton, the larger an organization is the more likely it is to skew towards “adaptive” or “better” types of thinking. This makes high innovators like Steve the odd man out on teams — and they often becomes sources of conflict. However, teams that are diverse in thinking style outperform teams with similar styles in innovation projects. Coping with thinking style diversity in your organizational culture is a key element in achieving innovation results. That happens with awareness and tolerance. Without that greater sensitivity and support  Young Steve’s go elsewhere — they quit, or, get fired.

Steve became the Steve of legend because he was out on his own doing his own thing. If you want to find and keep that kind of different-thinking talent you’d best make sure you invest in creating a culture that supports the unique and enigmatic people who think that way. Or, you’ll read the headlines one morning and discover your ex-employee has just reinvented your industry — for your competition.

image credit: edibleapple.com


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If Steve Jobs Worked for You, you'd probably fire himGregg Fraley is a creativity and innovation consultant. He currently works with Fortune 500 companies and does keynotes, workshops, training and consulting. The author of Jack’s Notebook, a business parable about creative problem solving, he is also a certified administrator of the Kirton Adaptor Innovator inventory which measures creative style.

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14 Responses to If Steve Jobs Worked for You, you’d probably fire him

  1. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | If Steve Jobs Worked for You, you’d probably fire him | Transmedia Spain | Scoop.it

  2. Braden Kelley says:

    Most companies, even those that want innovation, often have little tolerance for The Revolutionary – which of my Nine Innovation Roles – is the one that Steve Jobs sought most urgently to fill, with The Evangelist being probably the second role he would seek to fill in the pursuit of innovation.

    As a result companies do need to take a hard look at whether they tend to eject revolutionaries or effectively harness and support them. People like Steve Jobs are often fired or leave of their own accord to go somewhere else to realize their vision of how the status quo needs to be toppled and companies need to figure out whether that is okay.

    It might be okay if companies are well equipped to acquire, integrate and scale promising innovations from outside, but if they are not then they might want to create better conditions inside the company for intrapreneurs to develop their ideas internally and flourish.

    Either way, successful innovation teams need to have all nine innovation roles filled (ideally by people who are good at that role), and you can learn more about the Nine Innovation Roles in this Innovation Excellence article here:

    http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/05/02/the-nine-innovation-roles/

    Keep innovating!

    @innovate

    • I think there is a point to be made here that it may actually be the right decision to fire him, depending on where the company is right now. Or rather, let him spin out of the company (not necessarily by the mechanism of a “spinout”) but find ways to keep him in your orbit (there really are ways to do this today).

      This is really the problem. It is a rare organization that can plot out a nice KAI continuum with real employees (we tried this at Extreme Blue at IBM, with one of our team, Ron Woan, getting his KAI certification), and it is difficult for an organization to tolerate the constant “let’s go in a different direction” thinking that comes with high innovators even when you have translational people spread across the continuum.

      So there’s the rub – we want mainly Adapter-to-mid with maybe a few Innovation-leaning folks in organizations that are growing and need to improve rapidly. But when out of nowhere the organization faces an existential threat that will shortly make the business model irrelevant, that’s when it is handy to have a Steve Jobs in your corner.

      In a way, that is what Steve did for Adobe early in its life. Warnock and Geschke had a very different idea of what their business was, and then they met Steve, who told them their “new baby sucks,” essentially. But only when they were nearly out of money a year or so later did they succumb to his reality distortion field, drop the turnkey business model, and focus on Postscript.

      So I guess the point is, your innovators don’t have to work for you.

      • Gregg Fraley says:

        Jorge, it’s a valid point you make, and thanks for your comment. I think however there is a happy balance that can happen, where “Steve” is actually appreciated for the “different directions” that can sometimes be annoying. If you want smooth operations and no conflict, sure, fire away! But if you want a home run hitter on the team, you have to be aware enough to tolerate, even nourish him, when you don’t need him, and then have him around when the it’s two outs with the bases loaded.

  3. Claudia Saviera Winzen, Change Agent and Consultant says:

    I totally agree with Gregg Fraley’s of how Steve Jobs used to work. His way of working strongly reminds me of the first three habits Stephen R. Corvey wrote in his Bestseller “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Habit No. 1: Be Proactive…taking responsibility; Habit No. 2: Have the End in your Mind…create your vision; Habit No. 3: Put first things first and that is all about setting priorities that go along with your values, your purpose in life and so your principles, this is what drives you in life. This was Steve Jobs’ engine. And he deeply believed in what he was doing, seemed to be fulfilled – sensing his work more or less as an exciting adventure (which shall correspond to Habit No. 8: From Effectiveness to Greatness).

    What I have noticed over the years is that this kind of passion, burning fire inside these innovative minds often frightens other colleagues. Because those do not feel it, probably they do not believe (anymore) in what they are doing. Maybe they forgot about their first days of enthusiasm, about their own grandness, their fresh ideas – as they were customized by structures and conformity-thinking over the years…they were assimilated by the mass, and maybe they are passed by the mainstream-workers.

    Why that? These mainstream workers climb the career ladder because they are usually easier to cope with and better to control.
    So – how can you prevent this scenario in corporations who really wish to reinvent and do transform? How can you create an inspiring atmosphere where fresh ideas, evolutionary thinking is supported? How can you build up vivid learning organizations? How can you discover the hidden talents? Does it mean setting awards, distributing more incentives? Or shall the management really listen to these powerful persons and their unique ideas that could boost the corporation giving them the money to work on these innovative concepts and help them realizing them?
    Maybe this would help other people in organizations to wake up too, getting them motivated to identify their potentials and HR should give them the frame to explore themselves.

  4. Konrad says:

    But it is not a coincidence that Mr Jobs did not spend so much time employed at other people’s places. In todays more fluent marketplace, I am not sure that the people who want to make a dent in the universe (and it would be a seperate topic of investigation to see why this is mainly men) actually would be looking for a regular employment position.

    Also, the problem is that you have to be able to make out those troublemakers that are actually very good at one aspect of their job from those that do not offer enough to make it worth the effort of the team to pull them through.

    In opposition to reading all that is good and well about Steve Jobs, may I humbly suggest you read Joel Spolky’s article on the virtue of teams and letting good people do their work in a climate that encourages them?

  5. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Innovation Quotes of the Week – July 8, 2012

  6. John Wolpert says:

    I think there is a point to be made here that it may actually be the right decision to fire him, depending on where the company is right now. Or rather, let him spin out of the company (not necessarily by the mechanism of a “spinout”) but find ways to keep him in your orbit (there really are ways to do this today).

    This is really the problem. It is a rare organization that can plot out a nice KAI continuum with real employees (we tried this at Extreme Blue at IBM, with one of our team, Ron Woan, getting his KAI certification), and it is difficult for an organization to tolerate the constant “let’s go in a different direction” thinking that comes with high innovators even when you have translational people spread across the continuum.

    So there’s the rub – we want mainly Adapter-to-mid with maybe a few Innovation-leaning folks in organizations that are growing and need to improve rapidly. But when out of nowhere the organization faces an existential threat that will shortly make the business model irrelevant, that’s when it is handy to have a Steve Jobs in your corner.

    In a way, that is what Steve did for Adobe early in its life. Warnock and Geschke had a very different idea of what their business was, and then they met Steve, who told them their “new baby sucks,” essentially. But only when they were nearly out of money a year or so later did they succumb to his reality distortion field, drop the turnkey business model, and focus on Postscript.

    So I guess the point is, your innovators don’t have to work for you.

  7. Christina Smythe says:

    What a huge loss! Steve Jobs was a brilliant man who shaped the world we live in. I see a lot of people have shared memories about him on his memorial page within Evertalk in Facebook. Here’s the link: https://apps.facebook.com/evertalk/index/memorial/stevenjobs129

  8. Jacklyn Johnson says:

    If it wasn’t for Steve Jobs, many of today’s networking technologies would not be around. I am grateful for his contributions. Thanks for the heads up on the Evertalk page Christina.

  9. Techie Now says:

    What can i say man, what you are saying is all true and i’m really, really glad you’ve wrote this, you should send this out to website companies usually visits. Your website title says it all, it’s all about innovation, something different something out of the box. I love you article, Thanks man!

  10. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Top 20 Innovation Articles – July 2012

  11. Chrissy says:

    Didn’t know that he was SUCH a guy. He seems like he was arrogant for sometimes, but as far as I have read about him, he seems like a very calm person. Don’t know what to think anymore. Nevertheless, he is and will be the famous “MAC” guy.
    Chrissy

  12. Bronwyn Sheerin says:

    Is this just another bit of ‘spin’ from the US? I know Apple is a gigantic, successful multi-million dollar organisation, but why focus on Steve Jobs? There are plenty of other large companies out there equally as lucrative. If this man (and I’m truly sorry for his loss) was such a brillliant leader, why do we still have a business culture rife with greed and corruption? And what about Apple’s record when it comes to paying taxes? US companies continue to grow fat while its bankrupt, rundown cities crumble, e.g. Detroit. Why would you consider any person such as Steve Jobs as a worthy leader when the only goal of these companies’ is to make profit? We need to look away from the United States for real business leaders and new business models. Steve Jobs in my opinion, despite all his excellent achievements, is no role model.

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