Dear Everyone: You Are Not Steve Jobs
Furthermore, your company isn’t Apple.
Unless you work for Apple. But even then, you still aren’t Steve Jobs.
What made Steve Jobs so successful was that his tremendous amount of talent was matched by an equal quantity of arrogance. Talent and arrogance are a great combination. He was convinced his own ideas were better than everyone else’s – especially when it came to UX — and it turns out he was right.
The problem is that arrogant people, as a result of their arrogance, always think they’re as talented as Steve Jobs, and they are always wrong. And when I say always…yes, I mean always. Apple is the biggest company in the world — by a wide margin — and is much younger than most of the other companies in the discussion. I think it’s fair to say that Jobs was the best technology CEO ever.
But that doesn’t stop executives from trying to be him. Usually, this means emulating his arrogance, which isn’t hard, without a quarter of his talent. The result are managers with some combination of the following traits:
- They’re unwilling to compromise, even when all of the evidence points to the contrary.
- They don’t get along with their employees or colleagues. It’s not fun to work with people who are wrong frequently and never acknowledge it.
- They prefer a yes-man over an honest critic.
- They think they know their users better than the users know themselves.
- They believe they’re above marketing. Their product is so good it will market itself.
- They stick with failed ideas way too long before finally killing them and moving on.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you do have to have a healthy renegade streak and think you can fix a problem that nobody else seems able to. But there’s a lot of real estate between that healthy level of skepticism and the caricature of arrogance most people have developed of Jobs, whether or not that caricature is accurate.
The good news is that because you aren’t Steve Jobs, it’s okay to do the following things:
- Accept that your initial take on any given subject has a non-zero likelihood of being wrong.
- Surround yourself with people whose opinions you respect, and actually listen to them every once in a while.
- Do research to understand how your users and competitors operate, and where and how you can fit into that ecosystem.
- Pick your battles in UX. If your user is used to a certain workflow or visual cue, don’t reinvent the wheel unless you have a MUCH better way of doing it.
- Learn from your competitors. They probably have good ideas every now and then, too.
I love golf, but I am not Tiger Woods. Deluding myself into thinking I am won’t help me get better. What it will do is lead me to make terrible strategic decisions that will hurt my score and hamper my development.
Likewise, most people who think they are Steve Jobs could probably benefit from taking down their arrogance a notch or two. That doesn’t mean they can’t have big aspirations. It’s entirely possible to build a $100 billion dollar company using a much more humble management style, and it’s been done many times in the past. Most of those founders probably didn’t even think they were capable of building a $100 billion dollar company. But guess what? That humility didn’t stop them from getting there, and in fact it probably helped them get there by allowing them to properly delegate responsibilities and dispose of failed ideas.
Personally, I have much more confidence in someone with a reasonably modest opinion of themselves than someone who thinks they’re the next Steve Jobs, even if there’s a remote chance they might be right. Sure, the next $500 billion dollar company will probably be built by a founder who does think they’re the best ever and has the talent to back it up. But how many Steve Jobs wannabes will fail spectacularly in the process?