Watching the Steve Jobs “Lost Interview,” Part 2


As I started writing about yesterday in Part 1, I recently viewed a lost video of Steve Jobs being interviewed in 1995.  See this CBS News story about the video  or you can rent the video via (what else)  Apple iTunes  (as well as  Amazon  and  YouTube, all costing $3.99).

I'll share a few other quotes and ideas that were interesting to me, as a “Lean thinker.”

Jobs talks about, one day, being shown a rock tumbler. He was amazed how ordinary stones were transformed into smooth, beautiful objects, by being tumbled in a machine with a little grit over night.

He compared that to the team process that's involved in creating great products.

Great products come from a team (like a rock polishing tumbler) – bumping together, having fights — making some noise, working together they polish each other and what comes out are these really beautiful stones. It's definitely not the result of one person. People like symbols, so I'm that one person. It really was a team effort on the Mac.

It's nice to see Jobs acknowledge the team effort. We like to glorify CEOs as the people who have all the great ideas and make everything happen, especially in America. CEOs generally get too much credit or too much blame, much like quarterbacks in the NFL.

When hiring employees and creating teams, Jobs believed in hiring only “A players”:

Find truly gifted people (the A players, which takes incredible work). They really like working together. They don't want to work with B and C players. You build pockets of A players and it propagates.   It was the hardest they worked in their life, but the most intense and cherished experience they'll have in their life.

This is something that Quint Studer writes about, for healthcare, in his excellent book Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference. Studer emphasizes, more than the Lean philosophy might, that you need to try to improve your “B players” and manage out the “C players.” Studer argues that getting rid of the C players will improve morale and performance amongst the A and B players… as you work to help the B's develop into A's.

Jobs, if believed you want all A players, was probably right to focus on avoiding hiring mistakes. But, in hospitals, I wonder if all of the “C players” are really incurable. Maybe they have bad attitudes because they are frustrated with all of the waste they've struggled with for 20 years or maybe they never received proper training and coaching. I think healthcare can (and should) do more to develop the people they already have (and they might have no choice, given shortages of nurses, etc.).

Jobs believed that, when you had A players, that they could handle direct (if not harsh) feedback.

The interviewer, Bob Cringely, asked, “What does it mean when you tell someone their work is shit?”

Jobs said:

Sometimes it means their work is shit and sometimes it means I think their work is shit and I'm wrong (laughs) Usually, it means their work is nowhere near as good enough.

He continued:

When you have people who are really good, they know what and you don't have to baby them. What really matters is the work. The best thing you can do is point out when their work isn't good enough and do it clearly and articulate why and to get them back on track. Not showing a lack of confidence in their abilities (be really careful) – it's the work that's not good enough to support the work of the team. I've always taken a very direct approach. The really good people have found it beneficial and some people have hated it.

I think that's interesting – “what matters is the work.” It's possible, in the Lean world, to criticize the process (pointing out the waste) without criticizing the people who are involved. This is especially true, in healthcare, where the people doing the work generally weren't the ones to design the system they work in. In software or hardware design, Jobs might have been criticizing a person's creation, not just their performance. And it's easy to see why somebody would take any of that criticism personally… unless they realize it's all about the work and all about the customer's needs.

Jobs added:

I don't care about being right, I just care about success.   I don't mind being wrong and I'll admit that I'm wrong and that doesn't matter to me.

That's good that (if true) Jobs would change his mind, given data or evidence.

Keep in mind this was 1985… Jobs had some harsh words for Microsoft (Windows 95 was just being launched and was gaining a position of dominance):

Microsoft is like the Japanese… they keep on coming. The original applications for Mac were terrible but they kept at it.

The only problem with Microsoft is that they have no taste. They don't bring much culture into their product. They make really third-rate products. Their products have no spirit to them, no spirit of enlightenment. They are very pedestrian. The sad part is that most customers don't have a lot of that spirit either. The way we're going to advance our species is to take the best and spread it around to everybody. People grow up with better things and they learn to appreciate the subtlety of these better things. Microsoft… it's McDonald's. That's what saddens me, not that Microsoft has won but that the products don't display more insight and creativity.

For those of us working on improvement efforts in healthcare or other industries, are we willing to “keep on coming?” Do we have the tenacity to keep working when we face so many challenges and so much waste?

Steve Jobs — a thought-provoking man and a very fascinating man.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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