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“Vision without execution is hallucination.” — Walter Isaacson
For someone with lousy people skills, Steve Jobs knew how to bring out the best in us. If you were especially creative, he gave you a ‘safe space’ where you did the unthinkable, you were allowed to make mistakes. And he would let you keep on making them until you got it right. The results speak for themselves.
While he was alive, he taught us how to turn a small, secondary computer company into a global creative powerhouse. His instruction was a simple algorithm anyone can follow, starting with: “you will meet three types of people in your career.”
“Gather ten smart people into a room and one or two will be creative, two are great at solving problems, the rest are critics. Keep the creatives away from the critics.”
Time after time, he confounded his competitors with products that set the customer’s imagination on fire. But if you recall the early days of the iPhone? Critics bombarded it with a hundred different reasons why it would fail. And it nearly did, but that was in the lab where it didn’t count. He knew when the time was right, the critics would have their way, but until then it was still time to be creating.
Here are the rules Jobs lived by as he found how to blend technology and design in ways no one had imagined.
Jobs carefully guarded those few people in the organization who, like himself, possessed an unerring creative skill, and he nurtured them and their ideas. He believed exposing an early stage product to critics too early means they kill it with safe sounding but boring modifications (which if made later might actually be useful).
Once a product was ready for testing, he kept it hidden like one of those vaunted Apple secret missions, and only allowed what he called problem solvers into the room. They are the equivalent of product therapists, the kind who give the creatives a chance to amend product flaws but not offend their sensibility.
Jobs knew the critics were not the first but the final stage of market adoption.
Finally, once the problems were solved, he would let the rest of us in, the type that get a kick out of tearing things apart. Jobs felt if you brought them in at the right time, critics would help toughen an idea (and the team).
The key to driving corporate creativity is to make sure the process flows in that order — creative, problem solvers, critics — with strong boundaries at each step. His warning was don’t bring in the critics too early; they are nice people but they can be idea killers.
Jeff Cunningham is an advocate for enlightened global leadership, which he calls the most valuable natural resource in the world.
He is a Professor at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and was the former publisher of Forbes Magazine, startup founder, digital content CEO, and ran an internet venture capital fund.
He travels the globe in search of iconic leaders. As an interviewer/host, he created a YouTube interview series, Iconic Voices, now co-produced by @Thunderbird, featuring mega moguls from Warren Buffett to JeffImmelt. His articles on leadership have been featured in the Arizona Republic, LinkedIn and Medium via JeffCunningham.com.
His career experience includes publisher of Forbes Magazine; founder of Directorship Magazine; CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk), Myway.com, and CareerTrack.com; venture partner with Schroders. He serves as a trustee of the McCain Institute and previously as a trustee of CSIS and Middle East Institute, and as an advisor to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
He has also been a board director of 10 public companies.