The Lesson Of Apple Isn’t New, But It Works
At most companies, the red-faced, tyrannical boss is an outdated archetype, a caricature from the life of Dagwood. Not at Apple. Whereas the rest of the tech industry may motivate employees with carrots, Jobs is known as an inveterate stick man. Even the most favored employee could find themselves on the receiving end of a tirade. Insiders have a term for it: the “hero-shithead roller coaster.” Says Edward Eigerman, a former Apple engineer, “More than anywhere else I’ve worked before or since, there’s a lot of concern about being fired.”
But Jobs’ employees remain devoted. That’s because his autocracy is balanced by his famous charisma — he can make the task of designing a power supply feel like a mission from God. Andy Hertzfeld, lead designer of the original Macintosh OS, says Jobs imbued him and his coworkers with “messianic zeal.” And because Jobs’ approval is so hard to win, Apple staffers labor tirelessly to please him. “He has the ability to pull the best out of people,” says Ratzlaff, who worked closely with Jobs on OS X for 18 months. “I learned a tremendous amount from him.”
This is an apocryphal story that I’ve heard attributed to various people at various times. I will use the generic version to make the point.
A fledging writer encounters a published writer whose work he admires. He asks the pro if he will spare a few minutes to read his short story. The writer says yes, and goes away for a few minutes.
He returns, hands the sheets of paper back to the novice and asks with a sneer, “Is that the best you can do?”
The novice is speechless.
The writer tells him he’ll be at a book signing in the city and tells the novice to show up again.
The novice shows up again with another short story and gives it to the writer. Again, the writer goes away for a while.
He returns, this time the sheets of paper have been torn in half. The writer nearly screams, “Why are you wasting my time? Is that the best you can do?”
The novice takes his ripped papers and the writer tells him he’ll be giving a speech next week.
The novice shows up, trembling, short story in hand. The writer looks at him and sternly asks, “Is this the best you can do?”
The novice squares up his shoulders, thrusts out the manuscript, and replies, “Yes. It is.”
The professional writer replies, “OK. Then this time I’ll read it!”
Moral: Your best isn’t really your best until it it really is your best.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Emphasis added by me.
See also Ihsan, The pursuit of Excellence, mentioned here.