The Steve Jobs Dilemma

The problem with Steve Jobs, from the traditional business person’s point of view, seems to be that he doesn’t fit neatly into some category allowing them to use left-brain methodologies to determine how it is that Apple manages – in spite of the odds – to succeed. He’s an anomaly. And his success must baffle the hell out of a lot of people.

With that in mind, here’s a link to another one of my LinkedIn answers on the Steve Jobs dilemma (Link). It’s a long response, so I’ll just include excerpts here.

Question: Can we beat Jobs at product Designing …?

Yeah, Jobs can be *beaten”. But the conductor who directs that effort won’t be in the position to do so because of some one background (marketing guy, engineering guy, IT guy or whatever). This person will have sufficient understanding of the importance of *all* the factors that go into Design, and thus intrinsically understand how the whole is more exceptional when all the parts – including the one’s that don’t normally seem to matter – operate harmoniously.

Furthermore, when I read “He is a master of marketing, not design“, I get the impression a compartmentalized mentality is at work in the effort to define Jobs’ role at Apple. The thinking here seems to me to be similar to focusing on little “d” design, only this time it’s little “m” marketing. This is, in my opinion, an unnecessarily narrow focus on a particular skillset within a company when instead we should be considering the whole of the organization.

In addition, when I read, “His vision is directing the end choices, but thousands of people are implementing it … So designing is not Jobs strength, but creating demand for technology is his strength“, I have to smile because that certainly sounds like a designer to me. No, it’s not the activity many people associate with traditionally understood little “d” design. Instead, it’s someone designing something pretty big and complex. Like an entire company.
That’s capital “D” design. C-level design. Design involving “thousands of people”; among them task-specific, little “d” designers as well as marketers, sales people and all the rest. It’s Andy Warhol’s “Factory”, just with more people doing a greater variety of tasks. Instead of a silkscreen print, consumers get a printed circuit board in a nice shell.
What I have to wonder is: why is it that so many people don’t seem to grasp the concept of Designing a corporation? In my opinion, Jobs’ *greatest* strength is, in fact, his ability to Design at that level. It’s the reason people like BusinessWeek’s Bruce Nussbaum (with whom I don’t always agree, btw) make a good argument that CEO’s need to be (D)esigners.
That’s not designers in the traditional, limited sense of the term, but in the high level sense of the word. In the “master of designing companies” sense of the word.

Maybe what we need is a new job description. Instead of Chief Executive Officer, perhaps we should have Chief Executive Designer; the person tasked with forming and molding the entire corporation into a single expression represented by its Brand identity.

3 thoughts on “The Steve Jobs Dilemma

  1. I agree, not only does Steve have the right skills, but more importantly he is in a position TO do something.

    Personally I have tried so some small success, but the compartmentalized people that causes such efforts to fail. Engineers pushing for lower BOM costs, Marketeers failing to understand and communicate the product well etc. are probably very common examples.

    We are at a crux, but sadly we are still a long way to go before we have people with the skills of Jobs but also in a position to make a difference.

  2. I think we already have people out there with “the skills of Jobs”, but they’re not the *best* at what they do within their department and so they don’t move up; or they’re in fields (like ID) where there often is no path to the C-level opportunities. In other words, unless you start your own company and/or get very lucky, the current system works against such people rising to the top.

  3. Yes I agree, hence the actual motivation of my recent linked-in question on designer as a producer.

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