Apple, dot-communism

Leadership vs. Management, or what Steve Jobs, Marines, and Navy SEALs have in common

The end of the Steve Jobs era at Apple has a lot of people disssecting what made him the successful CEO he was.   You can analyze his own words for his management style (which is certainly helpful in some ways). Yet some management experts have said there’s no value in emulating his management style, because while he is undoubtedly a creative genius, his approach is one that could only really work for him, and some other loads of bullshit about governance and all that.

They are right.  And here’s why: chump CEOs manage, and winner CEOs lead.  Don’t get me wrong–an organization needs good management. But the best management in the world will leave you managing your way to oblivion without leadership.  That’s why the most exciting places I’ve worked–and the most successful, in the long term–were run by people who were laser-focused on mission, and on making everyone in the organization understand what that mission was and how they were part of it.  And they inspired people within the organization to leadership as well, taking ownership of the mission and initiative to make it succeed.   On the other hand, organizations focused on standardizing process and on managing the details may have been well-run, but they usually were running well in every direction but the one they needed to go in.

The early Steve Jobs, the one who was run out of Apple, was insanely involved in the management of his company, perhaps to an unhealthy level.  He was a horrible manager, in short.  I think he’d at least admit that he wasn’t a great manager.  But he was a visionary and a leader, and when Apple lost that and replaced it with good management, Apple became less and less relevant.  When he came back from the wilderness, he had learned something, I think, about the difference between being hyper-focused on detail as a leader, and hyper-focused on detail as a manager; he, as he has said, had learned at Pixar to ease off a bit on the mechanics and focus on culture and vision.

Steve Jobs’ management style, then, is less important than his leadership.  He embodied his company. He set the mission. He kept the focus on the mission.  He got the huge organization at Apple all pulling in the same direction based on his personal will to succeed, and his demanding standards.  There was nothing in that has anything to do with Maslow or Deming or TQM or Six Sigma.

I learned a lot about management as a Navy officer. While I was in Navy ROTC, the guys who were on the Marine track would make fun of the Navy’s focus on management versus the Marine Corps’ emphasis on leadership and mission.  Some of it was true, just because of the nature of what the two sister services did (and do).  Some of it was BS–the Navy had its great leaders too, and the Marine Corps had its share of manage-a-holics who couldn’t lead rainwater down a stormdrain. But the key difference was in the way the two services built their culture–because of the Marine Corps’ small size, it didn’t have the luxury of creating an industrial caste system. Every Marine started off the same way–by becoming a rifleman.  In other words, there was cultural focus on mission. The Navy SEALs have a similar mission focus because of the nature of their jobs.

Leadership and management are not mutually exclusive, but  it’s almost impossible for anyone sane to contain in their mind simultaneously the tactical and strategic vision required to keep everyone focused on mission while at the same time making sure all the paperwork is done. That doesn’t mean that one person can’t do both of those things–it just means they can’t do them at the same exact time.  And splitting focus from leadership, or from management, to attend to the other makes both much less effective.  That’s why the best leaders find good managers as partners.  That’s why Steve Jobs needed Tim Cook.  And hopefully, now that he has risen to the top spot, Tim Cook will find someone just as capable as a manager as he was to take over that executive officer role–COO–and let him become focused on extending the mission vision Steve Jobs laid out.


Administrivia, AOL, dot-communism, facebook, Technologies, Web Culture, Yahoo! Wikileaks give me attention deficit disorder

Yahoo is apparently looking to release the social linking service into the wild (after never really finding a way to monetize it, I suspect, and finally deciding that Yahoo is not an Internet charity but in fact a business).  Of course, since it’s the vessel for a great deal of social content, there’s obviously been some concern–if you had spent the last decade storing all your favorite web bookmarks in a cloud service, you’d be kind of upset if they were to suddenly go poof, I’m sure.

I’m not a big user.  Back when I worked with a certain Gillmor, he raved something about and the “attention-economy” and what-not.  I found it to be interesting when combined with other social media of the time (I think we called them “blogs” back then), and it demonstrated itself to be innovative enough that it gained a few copycats along the way. But I had this other way of sharing bookmarks with friends: by posting them to my blog and tagging them.  That way, I owned the data, and it was searchable, and anyone who cared about what I thought could subscribe to my RSS feed or see it on my blog (or eventually on Facebook or Twitter). And I had permalinks and all that jazz. Oh, and I could do that for free with several blog platforms. But that wasn’t playing in the attention-stream, I was told.  I guess I have attention deficit disorder or something.

Fast forward 10 years.  We have so many cloud-based social media tugging at us, wanting us to connect to friends and share that has long been lost to most people in the din of Facebook this and Twitter that. has evolved a little, but other services like StumbleUpon and Reddit.  And, while some brave pioneers have hung around, the fickle masses have wandered on to other things.

No wonder Yahoo has gotten bored with and has labeled it “sunset”.   It’s that attention thing again, or a lack of it–people have stopped paying attention to what people pay attention to on and would now rather pay attention to what their friends are doing in Farmville.  And since  lives at the whim of a provider, with no terms of service and no export tool other than code-scraping, there’s the potential for all the attention that’s been spent on curating — curating, the latest buzzword for collecting links –there’s the potential that it’s all been in vain, for naught, and bound for the bit bucket in the cloud.

Of course, that’s the whole problem with magical cloud services, anyway. There may be terms of service out there, but there is not a whole lot that looks like a binding contract between cloud provider and user.  I could wake up tomorrow and find that Yahoo has lost interest in Flickr, and all my photos from the last 5 years have evaporated into so many purged pixels with no contractual recourse than, say, a refund on what’s left of my annual pro fee.  Google could turn off my mail. Facebook could declare me dead and purge my page. Like the Maryland Lottery, it could happen to you.

Do I have your attention?

At least providers like WordPress let me back up and export my site, and I have the code to run the blog someplace else, where I own (or at least lease) the server. But if the cloud is going to be both a metaphor for where applications live and a description of the substantiveness of legal protection that we have as users of the thing from having our digital works exist or not at the whims of questionable business models, then we need to have a way to own our data and move it and replicate it to cover our pixilated assets.

Wikileaks adds new focus to that — it is a model of what data portability should be.  Government siezes your URL because you pissed them off? No problem! The Bolivians will gladly give you a domain, and you can mirror–because YOU own the data, and can move it or duplicate it at will.  Sure, it costs something — money, in WikiLeaks’ case, to pay for hosting and domains and lawyers to fight extradition. In your case, it might cost sharing some of your data, and maybe your…attention.  To advertisements, or to other people’s sites, or whatever.

We pay sites like Facebook with our attention and our data. Mark Z. and his crew keep our attention with new features, and extract value from our data and our ad views to pay the rent.  We should have the ability to take our social network data and replicate it elsewhere, both while we’re using Facebook and when we leave, because it’s part of our identity.  There’s phone number portability by law… why not data portability?