Lessons for Politicians from Steve Jobs


Lessons for Politicians from Steve Jobs

Originally published at Peach Pundit on October 7, 2011

Politics is About Values

“Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for…. What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well…. Apple is about something more that that…. It’s core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe.”

Jobs then introduced the “Think Different” marketing campaign based not on what Apple machines did, but the core values that underlie their company and their products. Apple has not been the same company since, and the world has not been the same place.

Politicians need to understand that their voters have the same questions. They want to know not just your political positions but the core values that motivate you every day.

Too many politicians have fallen in love with self-promotion and neglect talking about and, more importantly, demonstrating, their core values. The irony is that their self-promotion falls flat because it’s not based on demonstrating their core values. You know who I’m talking about.

Voters and fellow politicians sense when a candidate’s stated values don’t match up with their personal actions, and this “BS-meter” gets more accurate with exposure.

Carmine Gallo spoke of the way Jobs talked about Apple’s mission in terms of “share what you’re passionate about.” Today, politicians have new platforms to share information with voters, but too many of them treat Facebook, Twitter and blogs as merely an extention of the traditional media. By failing to understand the power of these media to demonstrate their core values, they’re missing out on an opportuntity.

Anyone can say that they have “traditional values” or that they’re “compassionate conservatives,” but today, the social media give politicians a way of demonstrating that their actions meet their words.

Rather than simply stating you have “family values,” you can demonstrate to the voters where your values lie by tweeting about coaching your daughter’s soccer team or spending time at a piano recital. Rather than saying you’re a community leader, post a photo of you up on the roof while building a Habitat house with your church. Next time you hold a political fundraiser, ask everyone to bring a couple of cans of food to be donated to the local food bank. These day to day demonstrations say more about where your values truly lie than any piece of direct mail or 30-second TV spot and voters will take note.

Leaders don’t decide where to go based on poll numbers

When asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

This quote highlights the difference between leadership and management. Fundamental to Jobs leadership was his belief in people and his willingness to let others make mistakes. He also allowed himself to make mistakes as long as it was done in the course of innovation.

In 1996, just before he rejoined Apple, Steve Jobs was interviewed by Louis Rukeyser and asked where Apple had gone wrong since Jobs was pushed out in 1986.

“When I left Apple… we were ten years ahead of anybody else…. The problem was that apple stood still and people caught up with it….The way out … is to innovate. That’s how apple got to its glory, and that’s how I think they could return to it.”

No other political undertaking in Georgia has been so overwrought with management and bereft of leadership as the TSPLOST. The refrain of “let the voters decide” has left the metro Atlanta campaign floundering as it seeks to be all things to all people and to reconcile competing viewpoints about the role of transportation in Atlanta’s future. It has become the perfect illustration of the old saw that a camel is a horse designed by committee. It has also left the measure without any champions and with dimming hopes of passage in the Metro Atlanta region.

Failure isn’t permanent unless you let it be

One of the most-watched addresses by Jobs is his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. In it, Jobs discusses not only his successes but his failures, and how his greatest successes grew out of a single failure, his firing from Apple in 1986.

But the salient point isn’t just the way Jobs used his greatest failure to regroup before rejoining Apple and making it the dominant electronics company in the world. It’s the way Jobs constantly risked failure in pursuing his vision.

People laughed at the iMac, at the thought that adding pretty translucent colors to an underpowered desktop computer running a second-rate operating system would save Apple from obscurity. Others laughed at the iPod, which has come to so dominate its industry that no one remembers the Zune. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft mocked the $500 price tag of the iPhone when it was launched and predicted its failure. And the iPad has the entire computer industry running to try and catch up. Of course, few of us remember the Newton.

But with each of these bold gambits, Jobs risked not just the mocking of his peers, but the future company he built. Without Jobs’s taking risks without fear of failure, Apple might have remained a second-rate computer company and we might be stuck with crappy cell phones and useless PDAs.

Last year, Senator Renee Unterman championed a bill designed to address the sexual exploitation of minorsby, among other things, “decriminalizing” underage prostitution. She found only a single co-signer and wasbashed by some of the same conservatives she had worked with for years. She fought on, and earlier this year, Governor Deal signed into law a strong anti-sex trafficking statute that passed with the support of Attorney General Sam Olens, and majorities of both houses’ GOP caucus. How many other legislators can you name who have risked as much politically?

Teamwork depends on trust, the best ideas have to win

“Teamwork is dependent on trusting the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time…. You have to be run by ideas not by hierarchy, the best ideas have to win, otherwise people don’t stay.”

This seems to be a lesson that some of us, as Republicans, have forgotten as we have attained the political power in Georgia that we long craved. Great ideas like Zero-Based Budgeting have gotten bogged down in intramural conflicts. We’ve forgotten that it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy. Fortunately, we’ve seen Secretary of State Brian KempAgriculture Commissioner Gary Black and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler implement Zero-Based Budgeting within their agencies.

Internal caucus politics and intra-house rivalries can be good when harnessed to ensure that every member is doing the most they can to move the ball forward, but when the fighting is over the emoluments of hierarchy rather than seeking the best for our citizens, it is wasted effort at best, counterproductive at worst.

I can’t help but believe that we’re leaving improvements to the way our state government functions by not looking to the example of Steve Jobs in some aspects of the way we do the peoples’ business. Here’s hoping that in our mourning over the business world’s loss, we don’t also lose these valuable lessons.

Comments ( 0 )