“One of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, talked about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and science, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” — Steve Jobs
For someone with lousy people skills, Steve Jobs knew how to bring out the best in us. If you were especially creative, he gave you a ‘safe space’ where you did the unthinkable, you were allowed to make mistakes. And he would let you keep on making them until you got it right. The results speak for themselves.
While he was alive, he had a secret that teaches us how to turn a small, secondary computer company into a global powerhouse. The way he came by this historic standard of success was that he was not only a brilliant entrepreneur, but a creative one, as well. It may be the most powerful, and often overlooked, pairing of skills for any future startup founder or business legend. So what was his secret?
His instruction was a simple algorithm anyone can follow: “there are three types of people any time you are working as a team. Start by recognizing that one or two are designers, a few are problem solvers, and the rest are critics.
Time after time, he confounded his competitors with products that set the customer’s imagination on fire. But if you recall the early days of the iPhone? Critics bombarded it with a hundred different reasons why it would fail. And it nearly did, but that was in the lab where it didn’t count. He knew when the time was right, the critics would have their way, but until then it was still time to be creating.
Here are the rules Jobs lived by as he figured out how to blend technology and design in ways no one had imagined.
1) Nurture the creatives
Jobs had locks put on the doors at Jony Ive’s Apple design studios and neither he nor Tim Cook had a doorpass.
Carefully guard those few people in the organization who possess unerring creative skill. Then nurture them and their ideas. Don’t expose an early stage product to critics too early or they’ll kill it with safe sounding but boring modifications, which later in the cycle might be useful.
There is also a suits vs. artists paradigm that can destroy a company’s spirit. They both deserve a place in the decision making process, but far away from each other.
2) Bring in the problem solvers
When a product is in development, hide it. When it’s ready for testing, only let solvers kick the tires.
People who love to solve problems are a rare species. They are a special breed and earn value far beyond their compensation. Their first love is figuring out how to take a good product and make it great. They are the equivalent of product therapists, the kind who have insight into design and process, and possess a keen understanding of what the market wants. They also know how to talk to creatives, who trust them instinctively.
3) Then throw it to the critics
Once the problems are solved, let the rest of of the world in.
Most people think highly of their own critical skills, and are only too happy to share their opinion. They mirror how the market will react. If you bring them in at the end, they will do everything in their power to break things apart and will exhaust themselves trying. The good news is a product gets even better because it was exposed at the right time. Once the testing is done, critics usually go on to be the biggest fans.
Adios the suits
The key to driving corporate creativity is to make sure the process flows in that order — creative, problem solvers, critics. Jobs warned that critics are nice people, but they can be idea killers.