People like to call Apple co-founder Steve Jobs a “genius,” but he wasn’t a genius in the same way as, say, Alan Turing. He wasn’t a legendary developer, and he didn’t spend years perfecting hardware designs—instead, he had lots of employees who handled all aspects of Apple’s product portfolio.
What made Jobs so successful, in the opinion of author Malcolm Gladwell, was his sense of “urgency,” an overpowering urge to get things done. “It’s attitude,” he told the audience at the recent World Business Forum in New York City, according to Business Insider.
Gladwell illustrated his argument with the oft-repeated story of how Jobs (and Apple) came to embrace the Graphical User Interface (GUI) as the way of the future. After seeing a GUI in action at Xerox PARC, Jobs rushed back to Apple and told his engineers to build him something similar; he also asked his employees to design a much cheaper mouse than the one he saw at PARC. (Those who chronicle the history of Silicon Valley have debated for years over whether Apple “stole” Xerox’s technology, with many arguing against the idea of theft.)
The Xerox incident is just one of many instances in which Jobs aggressively pushed his people in pursuit of a singular vision. The many stories about the iPhone’s development likewise highlight how Jobs drove his employees to the limit. “He was well known as a taskmaster, seeming to know just how hard he could push his staff so that it delivered the impossible,” is how The New York Times once described his process.
But while a sense of urgency helped Jobs transform Apple into a great company, he still needed great employees to transform his ideas into reality. Success isn’t just vision; it’s also requires assembling a great team.
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