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Steve Jobs versus the All-Blacks

Does hierarchy enhance or inhibit progress?

By Ian Hendry

Alice Waters once said,” The decisions you make are a choice of values that reflect your life in every way.”

This seemed quite applicable last week when weighing the possibility of going to the new Steve Jobs movie versus watching the World Cup Rugby final between New Zealand and Australia. A tough decision for sure — whether to see a movie about a business icon or an event that occurs once every four years.

It is on record that Apple employees feared being caught in an elevator with Jobs. Words like tyrannical have been used to characterize Jobs, and yet even his critics would recognize his futuristic computer genius.

I was intrigued to see what insights a movie might reveal. However, people who knew Jobs more intimately, like Wozniak, Ive and even Sculley, were highly critical of the creative licence taken by the movie writer and director.

In fact, someone close to Jobs went so far as to call it a character assassination, and I felt quite disinclined to see something that distorted the truth that materially. On the other hand, my manly instincts, and my history of watching rugby in my younger days in England, captured my attention because I was intrigued to see whether a powerhouse like the New Zealand All Blacks could capture the top prize once again.

The SCNetwork event in November is titled “In Praise of Hierarchy — Conquering the hidden structural barriers to effectiveness, efficiency and trust.” You might be asking yourself what the event has to do with Jobs and the All Blacks?

I think there is something really very fundamental here. It is about the very core of who we are as human beings. Jobs fundamentally believed that human access to knowledge and information, using technology as the facilitator, could make the world a better place. The All Blacks rugby supremacy is about making people better, and this impacts every relationship, whether in business, sports, or family.

Jobs provided a vision, but he knew  it had to be delivered through people. I have a Jobs’ quote pinned on my office wall: ”It doesn’t make sense to have smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

There is little doubt that Jobs wanted “A” players, and he believed B players discouraged the “A” players and he was an open book in that belief. It’s likely he sized people up in that 10-second ride on the elevator.

Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO, observed that Jobs “invented things that I think other people could not and he solved things other people could not.” Even more helpful, Cook said “he’s someone that you wanted to do your best work for.”

This sounds like people were spurred to bring their very best to work every day. Jobs might have provided the spark, but the people around him were the engine. In the same way, the All Blacks story is about linking to a higher purpose: “It is the identity of the team that matters — not so much what the All Blacks do, but who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist."

In effect, the legacy has been focused on developing people, and the All Blacks team have been incrementally better as a natural by-product of that focus. Retiring players measure success on personal and team growth.

Apple’s success has been its ability to innovate over the past decade, and its growth has given more and more people access to knowledge around the world. The All Blacks is about making better people. So whether it is technology or people, does hierarchy enhance, or inhibit progress?

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Ian Hendry

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