The “…essence of Steve Jobs…”

This week, Steve Jobs’ death seemed to capture the attention of most of the industrialized world. While many of us noted his frail health (and his eventual date with destiny), we were still caught by surprise. I learned of Jobs’ death while checking the USA Today app on my iPad2 – which is ironic since Jobs sought to be at the forefront of the information age.

Well, frankly, Jobs sought to do more than just be at the technological forefront of the information age…He sought to make Apple the be all and end all of all things cutting edge and innovative. Apple is apparently the most valuable brand, and they hold more cash than the US government, so one could effectively argue Jobs’ success.

Jobs wasn’t a saint (his work ethic and questionable leadership and relationship management skills are legendary), but he was an effective transformational figure for Apple. Jobs knew the limits of his own mortality, and he sought to ensure that Apple would continue to prosper, even after he was gone. In the past, I’ve written about the importance of leadership development, performance management, and competency modeling – and Tim Cook’s recent ascension to the top spot at Apple is evidence of Apples commitment to sustained success.

I’m intrigued, however, after learning how Apple’s leaders have gone a step further in developing what they call “capturing the essence of Steve…”. In “With No Steve Jobs, Will Apple Lose Its Juice?”, a recent article that appears on NPR’s website, Apple’s leaders shed some light on their attempt to institutionalize Jobs’ discipline and methodical work ethic (e.g. a form of competency modeling):

Josh Bersin, a Silicon Valley expert in talent management and corporate succession, says Apple is “digitizing” information about key decisions during the Jobs years and turning them into case studies for future generations of managers.

“What they’re trying to do is essentially capture the essence of Steve Jobs and what he did and how he did it, so that people can maintain it,” Bersin says.

I know Bersin’s work (he’s a well-respected analyst and leads a highly sought after consulting firm in the human capital management space), so it’s interesting that he doesn’t have much more insight into Apple University’s new project.

Lest anyone think that Apple is looking to clone Steve Jobs (I remember when everyone thought that Jack Welch was the next great coming of the Messiah), one should not overlook the importance of competency modeling. Identifying competencies for success and building models by which organizational leaders can hire, develop, and retain top talent makes sense…plain and simple. Whether you’re the #1 branded company in the world, or the owner of a neighborhood bicycle shop – your organization’s leaders should be prepared to ensure that they have strong future leaders and “high-potentials” already identified for the future.

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5 responses to “The “…essence of Steve Jobs…”

  1. Nicely worded!

    Its unfortunate that the process of gathering those critical constructs of Steve Job’s leadership style is post-mortem endeavor. The greatest issue with all of this is that tacit knowledge is not something that is always written down or is based in logic. Gathering the “essence” of Steve Jobs at this point means they will be able to document the outcomes of his approaches, but they may not always capture the rationale that lead Mr. Jobs to the approach. up-and-coming leaders need to understand how the conclusion was reached, so they can apply the rationale to their own decisionmaking. This is what makes succession planning real.

    This further highlights the importance of a valid competency model…one would logically conclude that Mr. Jobs Personal attributes (attitudes and aptitudes) were big contriubutors to Mr. Jobs decision-making style. Then again, the time spent with the guru, and the hallucinogenic drugs may have also had a contributory effect… 😉

    • Thanks for the reply, Andre. I agree with your assertion about tacit knowledge, especially as it relates to how we learn simply from interacting with one another. I suppose Steve’s prickly persona made tacit learning a bit difficult for some, but I suppose Tim Cook benefited from his interactions w/Jobs enough to prepare him to take Apple to “the next level”. All in all, leaders must think of succession if they hope to sustain their business beyond their own tenure.

  2. Any thoughts on Jobs’ being joneid at the hip to Foxconn, whose worker conditions are so notoriously bad nearly 20 of its employees have committed suicide over the past two years? Foxconn and Apple have direct financial ties: Apple actually owns the equipment in Foxconn’s Shenzhen factory, and pays Foxconn for every finished and working assembly. Meanwhile, Apple by its own admission essentially ignores its own Supplier Code of Conduct.

    • Hi Asiye,

      The article emphasizes Steve Jobs’ innovative nature, and the importance of competency modeling (as evidenced by Apple documenting information that could benefit future leadership development). While I have a personal opinion about the Apple/Foxconn conundrum, it has no bearing on this subject.

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