Eric Bloom is a writer for TechWell and is the president and CTO of Manager Mechanics LLC. In part one of this interview, Eric discusses a new class he is working on based on Steve Jobs's leadership style, the importance of product ownership, and thinking outside your given role.
Jonathan Vanian: First of all, thank you for taking the time to take some time out of your day to do this. I really appreciate that. Why don't you tell me a little bit about your training class you have coming up with Jay Elliot?
Eric Bloom: Okay. Jay Elliot has actually written two books related to Steve Jobs. He worked very closely with him. The two books are Leading Apple with Steve Jobs and the Steve Job's Way. What happened was is that Jay was hired very early as the senior vice president in the early days of Apple. I think when they met, Jobs was about twenty-five-years old and Jay was about ten years of senior.
He was actually one of Jobs' advisors in addition to being sort of an employee, so to speak. What was fascinating in putting the class together was that—we all know that I'm not giving away any secrets to say that Steve Jobs was rather brash and had a sort of, let me say, a challenging personality—when we really sat back both by reading his books, by speaking to people in Silicon Valley who he'd worked with and such, and started putting together a class, there were some fascinating principles related to leadership, innovation, product development, and things along that line.
I've been in the industry a long time and in learning all of this and putting together the class, it made it very obvious to me why he was able to do the things he was able to do.
JV: Your class goes live in January?
EB: Yes, it does. It's a one-day class that we're offering both in public classes, as well as customized within specific corporations as need requires. We'll do private as well as a public classes with it.
JV: How did you two meet up and come up with the idea to do this class?
EB: I have a business partner who lives in San Jose. Jay Elliot was looking for a training firm to work with. He contacted just by coincidence someone that I was working with out there and they felt in order to bring the class to life, they needed to collaborate with a bigger training firm like us.
JV: Was this is the first time you've met Jay?
EB: Yes, it was.
JV: How was it like putting together a course with him?
EB: It's been great. He has a wealth of information. What we were able to get from him are inside stories of how things were done, things about the culture, how he perceived it both as a senior executive at Apple, as a confidant to Steve, and then later as sort of an outsider—but as they say, a positive ally.
JV: Was there anything surprising about Steve Jobs that you learned through Jay? Anything about leadership style or anything that you were not aware of?
EB: Yes, there was. I was very impressed by the level of detail and meticulousness of how he thought of things. I'll give you a specific example.
JV: Yeah, go ahead.
EB: Jobs was a believer that artists should sign their work. How did that played itself out at Apple? He brought in a big piece of flip-chart paper into a meeting and all of the engineers signed it. They put their signatures all over it like it's a big birthday card.
Then, what he did with that piece of paper is he had all of these signatures embossed on the inside of every Mac case that went out. While being inside the box where people [Ed. Note—consumers] couldn't see it, the engineers know it was there. Their name was physically in every box that was produced.
What did that do? That made a sense of ownership and for those engineers, it was really cool. On one hand, he was sort of very brash to deal with, but on the other hand, he did stuff like that.
JV: Yeah, that's really cool. Is this typical? What are other ways a company can come up with something similar that emphasizes the idea of ownership?
EB:I think you see it in software companies all the time. For example, Adobe. I don't know if it's on the newest version. I assume it is. I have them but I can't remember from memory, but Photoshop, when you open up Adobe Photoshop, the first thing that would come up on the banner page is a list of about thirty or forty programmers.
Now, did anyone actually read that stuff? No, you probably looked at while it was loading but to those engineers, that's very, very cool.
JV: Yeah, that's something they could put out to their family, their little mark of fame. That does something. It incentivizes the need to do a really good job in programming.
JV: Their names are going to be associated with the product.
EB: Absolutely. What I would say regarding other things like that is that this principle can be carried forward. Is it in the About Page if you're developing software? If you're developing a physical product for sale, certainly it comes with a brochure or something in it. Maybe you put the names of the people there in the About Page. If it's an internal software development project, then maybe what you do is when the project is initially announced to the company, you come up with something like what happens at the end of the movie.
What's your favorite movie?
JV: Off the top of my head…Fargo. I really like the movie, Fargo.
EB: Fargo. I think you know who the key actors and actresses in it, but they say all of those credits at the end. Do you know who the key grip is?
JV: I do not.
EB: No, but you know what? The person's friends and family were really excited when the ending went by in the credits at the end of the movie.
JV: Yeah, I can imagine.
EB: It's that kind of concept. It's the team, but it's a thank you to the people who put hard work into it.
JV: That's interesting. Is this something that you're seeing, Are you seeing people trying to do this idea attempting to recognize a person on a team?
EB: You know what? I never really paid much attention to it until I put together the Steve Jobs class. Now, that I am using this as sort of my example, I really like this concept. I see various firms have used it. Not all, but various firms like the Adobe example.
There's lot of things like that that I learned. I'm a professional manager. I'm a senior IT executive by background, but I found many things that I thought were great principles that can be used generally inside the corporation regarding the pure product, regarding an eye for detail. It was just fascinating in really getting sort of an inside view of it.
JV: Yeah, that sounds very fascinating. Also, I was reading an interview with Jay Elliot in the San Jose Mercury. He was talking about some of his experiences working with Steve. He was saying that Steve Jobs was known as a person who could recognize talent. Are there any ways that a person can develop that skill, talent recognition?
EB: I think there is. I'll actually describe it through one other story. The key to finding talent is to always be looking for it wherever you are. I'll give you an example of what Steve Jobs did.
What happened is that he was in a restaurant just ordering dinner. He being … actually it was Jay Elliot and Steve Jobs having dinner together. Jobs really like the layout of the menu. I don't mean, “Good, there was a burger on it.” I mean the way it looked, the font that was used, the style of it, etc.
JV: The aesthetics of the menu.
EB: He asked the owner of the restaurant, "Who designed your menu?" Then, hired him to work on documentation for the Mac.
JV: That's very interesting.
EB: The short answer is be watchful. Moving away from the Steve Jobs class, we have a concept of “thinking like a CIO.” Keeping in mind one’s specialty, you could actually extrapolate this to thinking like the CEO.
Anyway, the concept is rather than look at things from your own job, your own problems, your only task that you have to perform, if you can look at it at higher level, then what happens is it allows you to see things that you didn't see before, because, naturally, humans by our nature, we have to be able to filter out things we're not looking at.
For example, think of the highway you drive on the most.
EB: You drive that highway every day for a year. Then, all of a sudden one day you look down at your gas gauge and the little white thing there is pointing that you're almost out of gas.
JV: Yes, that's how it happens.
EB: You look up and now that gas is important to you. All of a sudden you stop seeing gasoline stations off of every edge that you never noticed before. It's the same concept. Jobs was always recognizant to look for quality talent. Tying it back to "thinking like a CIO," if you look at things the way your manager or your manager's manager would look at it, you can get a wider view of what your job is and how you can perform better as an individual in performing that job, because you're looking at it from your boss's perspective.