I’ve spent the last couple of days reading a lot about Steve Jobs since he passed away. For someone I’ve never met I do feel sad about losing him, I wish I’d ‘made it sooner so I could rub shoulders with him in the same circles and got to know him personally to see what he really was like as a person. There appears to be two sides to him, one that inspires and charms people into creating genius, the other that pushes people to the edge of crazy, ultra secretive, ultra competitive and has to get what he wants. I wonder what I would have made of him personally.
When I grew up, I aspired to be the next Bill Gates, he was the guy I admired and had achieved what I wanted to do in my life. I never really felt I had anything in common with Steve Jobs. I even remember my partner comparing me to Steve Jobs 3 years ago at SambaStream, and even then I didn’t want to be associated with what Steve represented; dictatorial, maybe even an arsehole to a lot of people. At the time my partner wasn’t comparing me in that way, but 3 years later that may have changed…
At university, I never used to care what people thought. I was confident, I was provocative, I could talk in front of lots of people, I could sell too. Not every day, but when I was on fire I could nail it. And somewhere along the way of working for Accenture, in a big corporate, I conformed, and became part of the status quo. I probably lost ‘some fucking self belief’ as Dave McClure would put it, and probably stopped dreaming the impossible. So when I left Accenture to start SambaStream, I lacked clear vision, and I compromised on too many things to accommodate my partners, not easily, but I did. I spent the first year arguing against what I saw was a bullshit ‘collaborative style’ management my partners wanted, a democracy that didn’t work, and in my opinion doesn’t work for any company that is under resourced and under pressure to grow fast as democracies by their very nature are wasteful and inefficient. You only need to look at the difference between India, who claim to be the worlds largest democracy, and China, who’s single state party are on track to bring the largest number of people out of poverty in 30 years and become the worlds next superpower.
The great leaders, like Steve, and my original favorite, Bill, are dictatorial in many ways. They don’t compromise the things they believe to try and make everyone happy. I feel I did that a lot at SambaStream to accommodate one partner in particular that clearly wasn’t the right person for our team, and as a result we built a small company, not the great one we originally set out to be, and it made both of us miserable. And while I wasn’t right about everything, it turned out in the end I was right about a lot, which is why I’m now in charge of launching a new service with huge potential and scale at Alfresco.
And that’s the message that’s hit me the last few days after Steve’s death. You need to believe in yourself, you can’t compromise on the fundamentals without being mediocre and wasting your talents to achieve great things. And yes, you will get in arguments with people along the way, not everyone will enjoy working with you, not everyone will like you or the decisions you make, but its the end result that counts. If Steve had compromised we would never have seen the reaction his death got the last few days, nor the legacy he left. There’s plenty of things not to like about him, but I think that will be forgotten compared to things hes achieved.
And I don’t think it necessarily makes you an arsehole like I assumed before. Just look at the messages from John Sculley and Eric Schmidt, two people he fell out with along the way, their messages of respect and admiration. I don’t think Steve died without a loving family, close friends and loyal employees around him. And because he was true to himself, the respect and admiration of even the people that didn’t agree with him. So what have you got to lose if you’re trying to do the right thing?
Steve’s life has inspired me to never compromise on who I am, or make the wrong decisions just to keep the status quo. I know from experiance that living by these rules makes me happiest, most succesful and ultimately more liked and respected by the people around me, not the arsehole I assumed Steve was 3 years ago. 3 years have taught me that breaking these rules actually brings the opposite, wastes your potential and makes everyone miserable, especially you.