This rainy cold weekend was a perfect time to finish reading Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson.   Innovation through conflict is at the core of my work.  Steve, a genius innovator, intrigues me.  Although, it is worth noting, he often lacked the ‘grace’ I advocate.

As I read, I kept asking myself:  Is it possible to do both – innovate on a grand scale and be graceful with conflict?  Would Apple be as successful without ranting?

The biography is a must read for anyone interested in business.  I found myself in tears several times.  I also felt inspired to be a bit more of the former perfectionistic version of myself.  I was a practicing engineer in the early 80’s when the first Apple computer was introduced.  While this book is his biography, it is also the history of personal computing.

Steve is portrayed as a person who either thought something was perfect or it was ‘sh–.‘ No holds barred he let it be known what was on his mind.  He pushed his people, setting what seemed like unrealistic goals.  Most of the time, his people made those deadlines. Only an A performer could survive working for him.    And, many of those didn’t.

No question, Apple’s innovations have changed the world.   Was it necessary to be so rude to do so?

As I read this book on my beloved Ipad, I kept wondering, is it possible to innovate in a grand way and build people at the same time?  I say, ‘yes.’  There were many things we all could learn from in Steve Job’s process:

  1. When having important conversations –walk with people in nature.
  2. Great care was given to space where people interacted. Space designed for spontaneous interaction is where great ideas are born.
  3. Simplicity.   Less is always more.
  4. Design first.  Then engineer to the design. (Start with the end in mind.)
  5. Have the people responsible for each function in the room making decisions from the beginning.
  6. Speak your truth (I add, from center with respect).

Number six challenges most people.  Speaking the truth from center with respect.  Most people tend to be either like Steve, steam rolling over people, or the opposite, not speaking up when they disagree.   A culture that encourages and rewards differences, open discussion and appropriate risk innovates.  A culture that rewards complacency and punishes mistakes dies.

It all comes back to people, communication and culture.

The first line in Spiral Impact is “Keep moving and bend your knees.”   I loved this passage from the end of Steve Jobs, referring to great artists and innovators:

“…They kept evolving, moving, refining their art. That’s what I’ve always tried to do  –  keep moving.   Otherwise, as Dylan says, if your not busy being born, your busy dying.”

Thank you Steve Jobs for changing the world, may you rest in peace.

Karen Valencic 12/5/2011