There 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
Gregg 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.