Building a Great Workplace: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” (Steve Jobs)
By Admin

November 11, 2011

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I am privileged to hang out with other “Entrepreneurs.” Social conversations are rarely about social topics. We always seem to chat about “personal stuff” for about 15 seconds, which somehow always leads quickly into a business concept or practical issue being churned around.

“How are the kids?”  “They’re pretty good. Good grades, Good kids, but I have been spending a lot of time recently on supply chain issues.”

And so it goes.

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Most “I’m having an issue with…” discussions are really pronouncements of frustration, not solution-seeking conversation-starters. Perhaps that is a characteristic of the owner as the Lone Ranger or Marlboro Man: they will solve the problem on their own. No desire to show the other wolves that they are damaged.  And: “You cannot understand MY business … the way I do.”

Agreed. No one can, and for the most part, neither will you, completely.

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“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” was Steve Jobs admonition and encouragement  to the graduating class of Stanford University. By “Foolish” I am certain he meant: Curious. Without  Preconceptions. A Blank Slate (The Tao Of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff), Open and willing. To think that Jobs meant “Be slack-jawed” simply does not fit his model.

A corporate manager who does not stay hungry or curious is on the road to intellectual dissolution. The organization soon follows.

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Guy Kawasaki (Innovative thinker, Apple Guy, respected business advisor) wrote in a recent blog post about “Changing The World” (the things I learned from Steve Jobs):

Changing your mind is a sign of intelligence.

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When Apple first shipped the iPhone there was no such thing as apps. Apps, Steve decreed, were a bad thing because you never know what they could be doing to your phone. Safari web apps were the way to go until six months later when Steve decided, or someone convinced Steve, that apps were the way to go—but of course. Duh! Apple came a long way in a short time from Safari web apps to “there’s an app for that.”

Changing your mind, both with Honor and Foresight simply begins with the question: “What do you think?” If you ask that with sincerity, it is asking for EXPERTISE, not for “help.” It is also an indicator that one is ready to change they way they think. The old solutions may not have today’s answer.

I have also observed a few smart business owners in social gatherings work the room seeking expertise and advice. They don’t make pronouncements, they don’t cut in quickly to an answer, but they always ask: “What do you think”. These owners always walk away with new directions of thought. Some to ponder and research, some are “Ah Hah” moments. They are ready to change, in a small way, or even in a huge way. They are looking to improve.

Steve Jobs literally stole, borrowed or coerced most of Apple’s and Pixar’s ground-breaking ideas. He of course, had a visionary perspective as his foundation. He demanded new ideas. He demanded excellence. He demanded innovation and more innovation. Had he stuck only to what he knew, Apple would have failed. His approach was not simply asking “what do you think” it was “What do you think that no one else knows?” And then demanding innovation, analysis and more creativity.

To create a Great Workplace is to “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Few organizations look at their business as a “Product.” That’s what they make, not where they work. Change your thinking, look for ideas, demand change and you will create a better organizational “machine” from which to make better products by better people in a better more productive environment. Become REMARKABLE. The Great Workplace has that template. It is how to build a Remarkable organization.

A great allegorical example of “change” or innovation comes from a Steve Jobs interview in 1996 for a PBS special segment called “The Parable of Stones”:

My favorite part is when Jobs answers the question “What’s important to you in the development of a product?” with a dig at John Sculley’s Apple (AAPL) and a parable about a can of rocks:

Jobs: “You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left was John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.

And the problem with that is there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a great idea and a great product. And to evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic.

And so we had a lot of great ideas when we started [the Mac]. But I’ve always felt a team of people doing something they really believe in is like when I was a young kid there was a widowed man who lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He’s a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn.

And one day he said to me, “come on into my garage I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “come back tomorrow.”

And this can was making a racket as the stones went around.

And I came back the next day and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in through rubbing against each other like this (clapping his hands), creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.

That’s always been in my mind my metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these beautiful stones.”

Assess yourself and your organization against, “The 12 Attributes Of  A Great Workplace.”

What do you think?