Original question from Quora:

How did Steve Jobs design and make new products?

I saw some videos of Steve attending NeXt meetings. It seemed like Steve would come up with the primary tasks they’d need to accomplish by researching the subject and then would move on to persuade his team to accept and work on his vision.

Then they would brainstrom with the team, Steve’s stubbornness didnt leave them much options in editing the design nor would he be much interested in letting an idea he’d come up with go.

From there on out Steve would yell at each engineer that fell behind and continued to transform it until it met his standards.

Was this their process of designing and building new products at Apple or NeXt or was it more different?

My Answer:

The thing about Steve Jobs is he had a secret to making things great and it’s counterintuitive.

Great inventions are often created by a single mind, but great products aren’t.

Steve Jobs was a salesman who was creating stuff he wanted to sell to the world. He didn’t invent much on his own. He relied on a bunch of people to help him create things.

And if that’s all he did it wouldn’t be very interesting, but that’s not all he did…

Steve Jobs used a psychological trick to make stuff happen. It has two important parts.

First, Steve Jobs was a harsh editor of work. I imagine him to be like the boss in The Devil Wears Prada and nothing being good enough. This creates a particular expectation.

Second, Jobs yelled at people and I don’t know if people always saw it coming. This is more important than you might think.

The first part creates an impossibly high standard to work to with an expectation that you’re going to work toward it. The second creates a consequence people are concerned about.

But it goes deeper than that. Yelling was a mechanism to break through the usual back and forth B.S. of excuses and everything. It saves time and effort to cut through to the core of things.

Ideally, people would be honest and able to have short, direct conversations about getting things done. Absent that, yelling is a way to make them think past all of that and just achieve what they are supposed to.

I think his bizarre attitude served to truly create a reality distortion field that cut to the chase and got the best work out of people. I don’t think this would work for everyone.

So while Steve Jobs did almost none of the design or engineering in the traditional sense, his interactions and leadership forced greatness on his people. That is his contribution to the process and without it Apple wouldn’t be Apple.

-Brian

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