10 Reasons Why Businesses Don’t Follow Jobs’ Example

Now that the posthumous praise for Steve Jobs begins to ebb, one wonders why we love Jobs and his success at Apple — but eschew his lessons.

1. No One Really Likes a Visionary.

They are lightning rods. Troublemakers. Some are even unfriendly. We may love them after they’re kicked to the curb, after the smoke clears, after history exonerates them — and then stand in line to buy their autobiographies. But we’re not really cool with them in the moment. Especially if we work with them or for them. They’re unmanageable.

2. No One Understands a Visionary.

We don’t like what we don’t understand. Visionary leaders are so outside the norm. They think in four dimensions. Kind of like theoretical physics; it can be explained mathematicallybut we just don’t have the words. Have heard it called “coloring outside the lines” by someone who gets it. Heard it called “circular thinking” by someone who doesn’t — and never will.

3. It’s Not Politically Expedient.

Remember, Jobs was pushed out of the company he founded. All because the then-Apple board didn’t like or appreciate his “style” and he rubbed people the wrong way. Think that lesson is lost on CEOs? (TechCrunch: “The sad fact is, founder firings are the rule, not the exception.”) Somewhere, I read that visionaries are often horrible administrators…that vision and passion (without the requisite “administrative skills” — whatever those are) are not sustainable. Perhaps we need to redefine “visionary”…if “vision” is important to us. Also, see #4.

4. CEOs and Boards are Risk Averse.

No one likes risk. It’s cryptonite to most businesses — and especially so to nonprofits and academia. Yet, great companies face and manage risk. (Remember the “risk-reward” ratio?) Research, planning, meticulous attention to implementation, and ongoing measurement are wonderful things. Are these concepts new to anyone?

5. Mediocrity is the New Black.

We’ve come to believe in slow, measured gains…management by consensus (also known as “management by least-common denominator”)…staying below the radar. While some may talk a big deal about changing the paradigm, we don’t really value standard deviations. It’s like Bob Uecker describing his lifetime batting average of .200: Not low enough to get sent down to the minors, but not high enough for any expectations. (Also: Search “political candidates.”)

6. Fear of Success.

Restauranteur non pareil Gordon Ramsay asks this of failing restaurants’ owners all the time. “Don’t you want to succeed?” Do we believe we don’t deserve better? Does academia instill this? (Answer: Yes. Yes it does.) Or, have we just drank too much of the proverbial cyanide-laced, sweetened and artificially-colored kids drink?

7. Success Inspires Employees.

As a CEO, you certainly don’t want your employees getting big heads, asking for raises, going off to work elsewhere, or vying for your job. Why upset the Apple cart?

8. Predictions are Difficult.

Too many companies haven’t yet caught up to the notion of figuring out what their consumers want/need now — let alone predicting such. Jobs and Apple dropped the floppy disk. Then they jettisoned the compact disk. Moving us ever closer to cloud technologies and away from desktop software. They invented the personal computer and are now totally rethinking it. Huh?

9. We Don’t Embrace Attention.

Visionary leaders are beacons. And it takes thick skin to address the masses in person and via the media. Jobs was Apple’s sole spokesman. Talking to the press got you fired. Was he a narcissist? Or did he understand/internalize — and have the chutzpah to deliver — the Apple message better than anyone else? Virtually every CEO I worked for would talk to the media if asked. But only one knew how to really leverage it. He engaged and excited the press.

10. We’ve Come to Equate “Vision” with Madness.

People thought Orville and Wilbur were crazy. One of the reasons why the Wrights didn’t hang out with the locals and kept their research private. Edison tried to discredit Tesla by electrocuting an elephant with the latter’s concept, alternating current — which is powering your life right now. (Okay…maybe Edison was a little crazy.) And, even though the Nazis feared him more than any other Allied Forces general, Patton wasn’t trusted to lead the Normandy invasion. Yet the Americans misled the Germans into thinking Patton would spearhead it. (Patton also suggested that — after beating the Nazis — the Allies remain in Europe to clear the Soviets out of the countries they subjugated. Probably would’ve prevented the Cold War. Hmmm.)

All of which brings us to Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Unfortunately, we’ve come to live more by the second part of that passage: “But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”