What I Learned Working For Steve Jobs (Twice)
Guy Kawasaki is a legend. He’s a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur, and the author of over a dozen books. He is a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, and has shared his insights with the world’s most respected companies — Google, Microsoft, Nike, Audi and many others.
But the one thing Guy Kawasaki is best known for is working at Apple. He worked for Steve Jobs not once, but twice.
Guy Kawasaki’s first stint at Apple dates back to 1983, where he served as the company’s brand evangelist during the launch of the Macintosh computer. He then worked for Jobs again in the 1990s.
What makes Kawasaki’s perspective particularly fascinating is that his experience working with Steve Jobs occurred long before Jobs managed to tone down his legendary temper.
Here are just a few of the lessons senior leaders in the banking industry can learn from Guy Kawasaki, featured keynote speaker at The Financial Brand Forum 2018.
Passing The Steve Jobs IQ Test
One day early in Kawasaki’s career at Apple, Steve Jobs showed up in Kawasaki’s cubicle with someone he didn’t recognize. Jobs didn’t bother introducing the man. Instead Jobs asked Kawasaki, “What do you think of a company called Knoware?”
Kawasaki told Jobs that the company’s products were mediocre, boring, and simplistic — nothing that had any strategic implications for Apple. In short, Knoware didn’t matter.
After Kawasaki laid all his cards on the table, Jobs then said to him, “I want you to meet Archie McGill, the CEO of Knoware.”
“Gee, thanks Steve,” Kawasaki thought to himself.
But as Kawasaki reflected on the incident later, he realized that he had passed the Steve Jobs’s IQ test.
“If I had said nice things about crappy software, Steve would have concluded that I was clueless,” Kawasaki recalls. “That would have been a career-limiting or career-ending move.”
Kawasaki says that being 100% honest at all times was one of the most valuable things he learned while working with Steve Jobs.
“Telling the truth is a test of your character and intelligence,” Kawasaki explains. “You need strength to tell the truth, and intelligence to recognize what is true in the first place. People yearn for the truth. Telling people that their ideas are good just to be positive doesn’t help them, nor lead to meaningful innovation.”
“Another important lesson I learned from Steve is that changing your mind, changing what you’re doing, reversing yourself — these are all signs of intelligence,” Kawasaki says. “I learned that when you’re doing something wrong, when you’re doing something sub-optimally, it’s a sign of intelligence to change your mind.”
Kawasaki says being able to admit a mistake and make the necessary change is the kind of mindset great leaders need to get ahead and create a culture that thrives. It shows bravery and a commitment to success, he says.
Innovate Like Apple… Or Iterate Just Like Everyone Else
The path of an innovative pioneer is never an easy one, which is why Kawasaki prescribes a combination of courage and tenacity to those who hope to realize truly transformational change.
“Don’t listen to those who say something can’t be done or won’t work,” encourages Kawasaki. “If Steve Jobs had listened to naysayers, you never would have heard of Apple.”
Contradictory to popular belief, Kawasaki says great innovation doesn’t result from listening to customers either. According to Kawasaki, breakthrough ideas only happen when you use your passion, your vision and your insight to create what you believe people need (or they will come to need, or that you can convince them they need).
“That’s what Steve Jobs did,” Kawasaki says.
“Apple didn’t use focus groups or market research,” he continues. “The Apple ‘focus group’ was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one,” he quips. “If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, ‘Better, faster, and cheaper’ — that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can describe their desires only in terms of what they are already using.”
“If customers haven’t seen anything different, how can they describe something different?” he asks rhetorically. “This is not to say you should ignore customers, but it is very difficult to get revolutionary ideas from customers. They will just tell you how to fix what is out there already.”
Kawasaki also says some things need to be believed to be seen, to turn a phrase.
“If you don’t believe, it’ll never happen,” he explains. “If you wait for proof, it’ll never happen. If you wait for customer validation, it will never happen. The reason why Macintosh was successful is that at the core, 100 people — chiefly the CEO, Steve Jobs — believed in it. And because we believed in Macintosh we made it real.”
“The real message I got from Steve is that you must ‘jump curves,” Kawasaki says. “You can’t survive duking it out on the same curve by simply trying to achieve ‘better sameness.'”
Steve drove people nuts with his design demands. Some shades of black weren’t black enough. Mere mortals think “black is black,” and that a trash can is a trash can. But Steve was a perfectionist… and he was right: most people actually care about design, and everyone else at least senses it.
“Apple is successful because of great design,” he says.
He describes Apple’s laptops as solid blocks of aluminum that look like they could have been carved by Tibetan monks.
“Everything Apple makes is a work of art.”
That’s why Jobs regarded engineers as artists and heroes; he had greater esteem for engineers than marketers.
“Many people think running a successful company is all about cost of goods sold, or return on equity,” Kawasaki says. “Design counts, and it’s a very emotional thing. Don’t underestimate that.”
Granted, financial institutions don’t have actual products that sit on store shelves in gorgeous packages. But the lesson is still the same: Design matters… a lot. Banks and credit unions might not be able to design a slick gadget someone can hold in their hands, but they can use design thinking to engineer a great experience. Whether crafting a new online tool or a new product, financial institutions need to embrace the principles of strategic design and smart UX in ways that connect with today’s design-savvy digital consumer.
Knowing What Comes NeXT
Guy Kawasaki was also the central figure in one of the most fabled stories of corporate prescience you’ll ever find in the chronicles of Silicon Valley lore.
In 1986, Steve Jobs had been fired from Apple, the company he cofounded. Undeterred, Jobs immediately began plotting his revenge, founding NeXT Computer shortly thereafter. At NeXT, Jobs created a radical new computing platform that cost a ridiculous $6,500 (over $13,000 in today’s money). No one understood what Jobs was up to, and his NeXT experiment was widely panned as an expensive failure. Everyone — except for Guy Kawasaki, that is — predicted that Steve Jobs had lost his mind and that his career was over.
As it turns out, Jobs knew exactly what he was doing. So did Guy Kawasaki. In 1994, Kawasaki penned a parody press release hypothesizing that Apple’s board of directors would be forced to bring Steve Jobs back as CEO. It turned out to be an amazingly accurate prophecy. While the NeXT computer had been a complete and utter flop, the operating system Jobs built for it was exactly what Apple needed for its Macintosh line. Jobs had simply been using NeXT as a front while he engineered the OS that would allow him to regain control of Apple — his baby.
In 1997, Apple purchased NeXT from Jobs for roughly $500 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock. As part of the agreement, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as the company’s CEO, where his NeXT operating system became the backbone driving every product Apple sold — from Macintosh computers to iPhones and Apple Watches.
Growing Pains: Any Worthwhile Experience Won’t Be Easy
Working for Steve Jobs wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pleasant. Kawasaki said he demanded excellence and insisted you perform at the top of your game… or you were toast.
“All the great HR practices that you’ve learned about — meeting with your employees, developing action plans and helping people reach their goals — Steve did none of that,” Kawasaki says. “He would not hesitate to tell people, in front of the whole division, what a bozo, clueless person you were, and I just lived in terrible fear of that. It was also extremely motivating.”
“Steve was a fantastic person – a difficult person to work for, very mercurial, very demanding,” he concludes. “I wouldn’t trade my experience working for him for anything.”
Learn More From Guy Kawasaki
At The Financial Brand Forum 2018, Guy Kawasaki will share the 10 most important lessons on branding and innovation that he personally learned in his years working at Apple alongside Steve Jobs.
Kawasaki joins an all-star lineup that includes Sallie Krawcheck, the most influential woman on Wall Street; Silicon Valley marketing sensation Randi Zuckerberg from Facebook; Catherine Courage, VP of Ads & User Experience at Google; Jim Marous, Co-Publisher of The Financial Brand; and a half-dozen other speakers who have appeared on TEDx stages around the world.
The agenda for Forum 2018 features three full days of ideas, insights and how-to strategy sessions from more than 60 world-class instructors.
Over 1,750+ of the best and brightest in banking will be at The Financial Brand Forum when it gets underway this upcoming May, making it the biggest conference anywhere in the world for senior-level marketing executives in the financial industry. Register now — you can’t afford to miss it!