Tim Cook on Steve Jobs and the values that drive Apple

Fast Company has an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook that is filled with quote-worthy insights.

Cook, an Auburn University graduate from Mobile, Alabama, has always come across to me as a genuinely good guy. Very smart and driven and hard-working, of course, but a regular, unassuming nice person who just happens to run the most impressive and wealthiest and coolest company in the world. As a fellow southerner and a delighted Apple customer, I especially enjoy hearing Cook’s southern drawl as the voice of a company that’s changing the world like few others ever have.

Cook earned his reputation at the company for his brilliant corralling of logistics and resources to build a staggeringly robust sytem for manufacturing all those iPods and iPhones and Macs. Steve Jobs was the product visionary and shaper of a uniquely innovative company culture, but it was Cook who was resonsible for making sure those dreams could be made and shipped.

Cook will never match Jobs as a cultural icon. But that doesn’t seem to be his aim.

Here’s Cook on lessons learned from Jobs:

Steve felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that.

He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world.

That was the huge arc of his life, the common thread. That’s what drove him to have big ideas. Through his actions, way more than any preaching, he embedded this nonacceptance of the status quo into the company.

That is great leadership. Clearly, Cook and those who worked with Jobs were infected by his approach, his “nonacceptance of the status quo”, his razor sharp focus on transformational ideas and products, and a relentless commitment to constant improvement.

And, with Apple, as with all great organizations, it keeps coming back to culture.

Here’s Cook’s response when asked about conveying the Apple culture within the company:

I don’t think of it as systematizing, but there are a number of things that we do, starting with employee orientation. Actually, it starts before that, in interviews. You’re trying to pick people that fit into the culture of the company. You want a very diverse group with very diverse life experiences looking at every problem. But you also want people to buy into the philosophy, not just buy in, but to deeply believe in it.

Then there’s employee orientation, which we do throughout the company all over the world. And then there’s Apple U., which takes things that happened in the past and dissects them in a way that helps people understand how decisions were made, why they were made, how successes occurred, and how failures occurred. All of these things help.

Ultimately, though, it’s on the company leaders to set the tone. Not only the CEO, but the leaders across the company. If you select them so carefully that they then hire the right people, it’s a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.

Apple recently has allowed the media more access to it’s top people than I can ever recall. The interview with Cook is thorough and interesting throughout and well worth reading whether you care about technology or not.

Pick a path and get moving

A thought worth considering from Donald Miller’s memoir about relationships, Scary Close:

“I wonder if what might help couples build great families is to pick a place for their family to go and then hit the gas, to work toward their vision and build it out. Relationships have a way of stabilizing when in motion. Until then, they just feel like a road trip to nowhere.”

A direction to go in and action to move you in that direction can invigorate not just a couple or a family, but an organization or an individual. Even if you’re not completely sure which direction to pursue, just start. Pick a path you wouldn’t mind pursuing and get moving. You can then course correct as necessary.

Just existing in a relationship or an organization or a life without direction and motion will suck the energy from everyone involved.

Shine for someone

I found this anecdote a while back:

“Maya Angelou was once asked what was her secret to being such a good writer and poet. Her response was, ‘Because when I was a little girl, every time I walked into a room my daddy’s eyes lit up.’”

I can’t trace it to an interview with Maya Angelou or verify it’s her story, but it rings true for me and seems to fit what I know of her. Every person is unique and has the gift of their never-to-be-duplicated presence to offer. But that sense of worth needs nurturing, and the potential for a truly radiant spirit and creative gift can be quashed without regular doses of encouragement and eye-shining love.

Whose eyes have shined for you? Who has given you the courage to be your best, to dare to be more than even you have imagined?

My parents, my grandmother, my sister. They all made me feel like I was special. My wife has the most amazing eyes of anyone I’ve ever seen, and I was smitten on our first date when she shined those gorgeous blue eyes on me with as much delight and focused attention as I’d ever known, as if I were, at that moment, the most interesting man in the world.

And when I’m giving a presentation, I live for those in the audience who smile back at me, who nod and engage from where they are. Who laugh at my humor, or fake it just to be kind. And I want to be that kind of person for someone else when I’m in an audience.

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people offer me encouragement throughout my life. Who do you need to appreciate for the encouragement you’ve received? Who have been your biggest fans?

And who gets the gift of your shining eyes? Who do you light up for? Whose fire can you warm yourself at?

I want to regularly light up for my wife and daughters and for the people I work with and for strangers who cross my path. It’s easy to take for granted the people we see often. But those closest to us deserve to be reminded that we are grateful for their presence.

It takes courage to express enthusiasm when “meh” is the prevailing sentiment.

Most human interactions are self-absorbed and monotonously sterile. Genuine enthusiasm and delight and focused attention seem shocking by comparison, and it takes courage to express enthusiasm when “meh” is the prevailing sentiment. But don’t you grow a little bigger inside when someone lights up at your presence?

Have the courage to be encouraging, to embolden those you encounter. Give your complete attention to the person in front of you. Genuinely connect with the random people you see and may never see again as well as with the people in your life every day. Be known for the energizing effect you have just for the delight you take in acknowledging the presence of others.

Get excited and allow your eyes to light up when others walk in the room. Shine for someone.

The elevator pitch, the tweet, and clarity of purpose

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Can you pitch your idea or make your point in the length of an elevator ride? That’s been a long-standing and effective thought experiment to help determine if you’ve thought clearly enough about your plan and can articulate it simply and quickly.

So, if you’re working on a speech or a business idea or a movie script or trying to start a movement to change the world, consider the elevator test.

Imagine you’re giving a talk at a conference. A fellow attendee gets on the elevator with you and sees the “Presenter” ribbon on your name badge. He lets you know he’s tempted to escape the conference during your session and go play golf or take a nap and asks what he would miss from your talk. What would be your response? What will your talk accomplish that would be of value to this wayward golfer? What will offer him enough value to make him delay his escape and stay for your presentation?

If you can’t come up with a short simple statement of your intended purpose and one that offers something of value to the prospective audience member, you need to go back to the beginning and rethink just why it is you’re doing this presentation. Or starting a business. Or writing a screenplay. Or starting a movement.

Or, instead of an elevator pitch, my 21st-century, connected friends, consider the challenge of tweeting, in 140 characters or less, your purpose, your mission, your goal. Can you say in just a few words, within the constraints of a tweet, what you hope to accomplish? If not, get busy asking “Why?” and hone and sharpen your thinking to come up with as clear and simple a statement as you can.

Here, for example, in tweet form (and exactly 140 characters thanks to the added hashtag and a stray space, because I’m just OCD enough), is my aim for a talk I’m giving this week to a couple of college classes:
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So many companies and organizations have some committee created mission statement that is either unknown and ignored or is so unwieldy as to be meaningless. What if your mission statement was tweetable and so direct and clear that everyone in the organization knew it and connected with it?

Imagine tweeting your own life’s purpose or the values and goals of your family. Not that you need to actually get on Twitter and post these things, but the effort to zero in on a crystal clear statement on the key “Why’s” in your life potentially can lead you to unparalleled clarity and action.

Five C’s of leadership

Kevin and Melissa, two of the university students I work with, are taking a leadership class and were assigned to ask questions about leadership. They both had this question for me: “What are the characteristics of an effective leader?”

“Effective” is subject to interpretation. Gengis Khan was effective… in conquering, destroying, and subjugating, but he was a heck of a leader, as were many violent tyrants throughout history.

For this purpose, however, let’s assume effective has a threshold of moral propiety that makes no room for obvious bad behavior or world domination.

Leadership is not a topic I’ve explored with much intention. I’ve always felt like I’ve known it when I’ve seen it, and, more commonly, been very aware where it’s lacking. As I pondered this question from my students, though, some key attributes came to mind. (And after I thought of the first couple, I couldn’t resist continuing with alliteration. Hence, five “C’s”.)

Here’s what I see or hope to see in the most honorable and effective leaders:

Clarity – Effective leaders have a clear vision of the big picture and can communicate with clarity the “why” of an organization or business or movement. “Why?” comes first, and if a leader hasn’t asked and can’t answer that question about the endeavor they’re hoping to lead, they still may be leading effectively but in a completely wrong direction.

Caring – A good leader cares deeply about the mission and the people involved and all the “how’s” and “what’s” necessary for excellence. The leader cares about even small details, about the process as much as (if not more than) the outcome. The intrinsic rewards of a job well done, of creating something of value and quality, outweigh any extrinsic rewards.

Competence – Mastery inspires confidence. We will follow someone who is clearly competent in their abilities, who knows their stuff. Teammates will rally around someone who is committed to excellence and demonstrates extraordinary competence, even if that person has not been entrusted with any official leadership role.

Character – The authentic person of integrity, who treats everyone with fairness and is impeccable with their actions, that person is a leader I want to follow. A leader of character will be wholly themselves regardless of the circumstances or the people around them. And trust is the most valuable asset an effective leader has to offer.

Compassion – A leader I admire is one who is kind and compassionate and who treats everyone with respect regardless of position or title. She is quick to forgive, eager to reconcile, and open to listening to and understanding even, or especially, divergent viewpoints.

My favorite description of a master leader comes from the Tao te Ching, one of the most profound books of wisdom:

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

You don’t need to be offered a promotion or run for office to be a leader. Be the CEO of your cubicle or your desk. Lead yourself. Act like you are who you want to be and embody the attributes that lead to an excellent life well lived.