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Every business leader should feel better after learning two things about Steve Jobs:
- For most of this life he routinely made catastrophic errors while running things that involved people such as product teams, businesses, meetings, etc.
But first, the bloopers:
At Apple (1976 - 1985)
- He was wrong about the Lisa and the Mac (which was a product failure and sales flop before being re-everything'd and relaunched after he was gone). Although he was brilliantly right about the marketing for Macintosh, he was running the product team that produced a non-viable product to market at launch.
At Next (1985 - 1996)
- He was right about hiring Avi Tevanian, right about the market opportunity, but wrong on timing. He was about five years off, and really the market was won and lost and won again in a way that he likely couldn't have influenced anyway. He never did have a successful Business to Business win.
At Pixar (1986 - 2006)
- He was wrong about buying Pixar and admitted this consistently for 10 years after doing it. It lost him money every single year until he renegotiated their distribution deal with Disney and eventually sold it, but it was sold for value that he didn't create and had nothing to do with (short of funding it and handling negotiations).
[Pictured here] are Steve Jobs and the creative team behind the ridiculously successful Finding Nemo, including John Lasseter, the legend himself. Nemo was the tipping point that proved Pixar's value to Disney and ultimately won Steve the leverage he needed to get Pixar such an unprecedented valuation. Prior to Nemo, there was still some thinking they could be a flash in the pan.
At Apple (1997 - 2011)
He made so many good, major decisions it would be nit-picky to highlight the few errors in judgment he had. He took major, company-threatening risks constantly throughout his tenure and most of them paid off in spades. Most of the product calls that get called mistakes now seem to be sound, reasonable choices at the time. Of course he didn't buy into the idea of third party apps for the iPhone, it was a new product and something like that hadn't really worked before for Nokia or Rim.
But for every minor decision where he could have been a bit more or less aggressive, he had 4-5 decisions where he just completely nailed something that would have been impossible for anybody else. At this point of his life he was a better manager, better co-worker, and more responsible person than he'd ever been.
He was still a bit rage-y and kind of merciless on occasion, but if anything those things benefitted Apple. From his coup in getting Bill Gates to commit to supporting the Mac and investing $150m, to cutting many of the highest profile and most beloved products in the Apple development lab because they just weren't consistent with his vision for the company, all of these are crap-your-pants risk level moves, any one of which could have killed the turnaround before it started if they had gone south.
His second stint at Apple is probably the model by which all other tech CEOs will be judged for decades, and you'd have to conclude that much of that came from so much damn experience being wrong before he took it back over.
[Pictured here], Steve introduces the iMac in 1998, the first real indication that something at Apple has changed, and that the personal computer market was entering a new era.
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