I’ve Had This Great Idea!

From a review of the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson:

Here’s Bud Tribble, another member of the Macintosh team, describing what it was like to work for the great man (Jobs): “If you tell him a new idea, he’ll usually tell you that he thinks it’s stupid. But then, if he actually likes it, exactly one week later, he’ll come back to you and propose your idea to you, as if he thought of it.”

I’ve noticed this behaviour with quite a few people over the years but I was amused to find that it was also true of Jobs!

On a related theme, when I’d just left academia and was starting out in the commercial world, my manager once told me that he’d be away for a few weeks as he had to visit a number of international research centres (US, Japan, EU etc).

He explained that his remit was to try to get a co-ordinated strategy amongst these highly competitive groups (within the same company). I remarked that this seemed a pretty thankless task as it seemed unlikely to get anywhere (for all the usual reasons).

He agreed it was tricky but to get over this he said that he’d use a very simple technique that previously had always worked. He’d listen carefully to all their separate ideas (some being the total opposite of others of course) and put together a mix that seemed a good way forward (for the company as a whole). He’d then go back to the groups one by one and explain the new strategy and remark that the bulk of the good ideas came primarily from that group. This wasn’t strictly true of course but they were nevertheless ready to believe it and to my surprise they all signed up!

In reality, I’m sure it was a lot more complicated than this – he was probably planting the seeds of ideas with each of the groups as he went along. However, the basic point is still the same – it takes time for new ideas to sink in and people always want/need a sense of involvement.

In conclusion, it’s helpful to learn the invaluable skill of ‘biting your tongue’!


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