Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, and Remember The Titans

A question on Jeopardy. It sure sounds like one. What do these men and that movie have in common? In the just-released book, Becoming Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, Tim Cook revealed that three days before Jobs passed away, he invited Tim over to his home to watch a movie. Why? As Cook relates, Jobs was not a sports fan. Cook even asked him, "Are you sure?" The subtext of that question: this may be the last time I see you alive and this is how you wish to spend it, watching a silly football movie..." Evidently Jobs insisted. They watched and then talked about it and other things. So the billion-dollar question: Why?

I don't profess to be a seer of some sort, to say I can look into the mind of the greatest technological giant of the 20th century and his successor. Anyone as tech challenged as me could never understand the inner workings of the mind of this great visionary. But I do know this movie. And I know what attracted me to this story. That I can speak about as none other because I discovered this story in my then-newly adopted town of Alexandria 17 years ago. I put the elements together, wrote the script, and sold it to Hollywood. The rest, as they say, is history.

From traveling across the country, speaking to groups, receiving thousands of emails, I knew that the story moved people, touched them in a deep and profound way. But discovering that this modest little movie could, in some way, be useful to Steve Jobs in conveying a final message to his successor is beyond belief.

Humbly, I can only speak to the themes that may have attracted him to my little movie and caused him to share with his successor in his final days.

People have always said Titans is about race, but it's actually a template for human interaction--maybe the perfect template.

How do we get along? We are different. Even within families there is strife from those differences. Then how do strangers get along divided as we are racially, socially, intellectually, economically. The primary theme of Titans is that differences don't matter really. You want to be a bigot? Fine. Your business. You don't like me. Also fine. Your business... What Coach Boone demanded is that you learn about each other. Why? Because when you learn about that person, his mamma, daddy, his family, you begin to see there's a human being there behind that stupidity, bigotry, hatred, ignorance.

Despite any difference you can enumerate, you share humanity, what the Zulu's call Ubuntu--my humanity is through you.

And out of that acknowledgment of humanity comes respect, the second of the two pillars for interpersonal relationships. What is love without respect? Destruction. What is friendship without respect? Folly. Respect is, or should be, the foundation of every healthy relationship. If respect is the foundation, you have a rock to build on. The Titans team was built on such a foundation and it was rock solid. It was built from the ground up, not from the top (affection) down. Perhaps Jobs saw in this a way to build a company going forward, acknowledging differences and respectfully working through them.

Big ambition. Big heart. The head coach, Herman Boone, repeatedly demanded perfection, and he meant it. It wasn't just a goal. It was a demand. Perfection became the default. He drove his team, and everyone else, relentlessly towards that goal. (He had to, for a loss would've cost him his job.) Is it possible that Jobs saw in Boone the perfectionist, the obsessive, demanding perfectionist? What do the pop psychologists call it, "creative tension"?

I bet there was a lot of that at Apple, as there was on that football team. But to be great, the person at the top has to be driven, and the people on that team or in that organization have to know greatness means something to the top man or woman, and will be ruthlessly pursued.

Unfortunately, in many organizations and teams, that's all you have. But to be truly great, as a leader, you have to be able to flip him or her over and see a heart as big as the sky. The assistant head coach in Titans, Bill Yoast, started out after college wanting to be a preacher. He became a football coach because he thought he'd have more impact on "the boys." If heart meant anything, if emotion and love meant anything, then he was one of the greatest coaches ever. He was the big heart of that team. As one player told me, "that defense was family."

It's not enough to have God-like power over the fate of people in an organization and imbue them with the zealotry of perfection if you don't match it with a heart equal to the ambition. Not more. The organization or team would fall apart with softheaded decision-making, but equal to it, yes indeed. That's what the Titans team had. Indeed, if you look at the Apple products, yes, we see the genius of Jobs, the innovation, the marvel, the coolness, that is all there, for sure. But if one looks deeper, one sees another side of him in these products: Emotion, heart, a sense of wonder, a connection, a human connection.

That Titans team wasn't just playing football. They were making a statement about the human condition, the workings of the heart. I think, I feel, that Steve Jobs saw my sentimental little movie in this macro sense and realized it was a metaphor for much larger issues. And, I hope and pray that the Titans messages will carry forward and his legacy will grow even greater in years to come. For Jobs was a true Titan, in more ways than one.