The Toy Box Inside Steve’s Brain

Advanced Educational Leadership
Dr. Dennis Stanek
The Toy Box Inside Steve’s Brain

Sometimes you find yourself at a place in the universe where everything is aligned just perfectly.  You stumble upon information you didn’t realized existed.  Opportunities present themselves at just the perfect moment.  A speaker, a book, a conversation, a conference, a class–all center around central topics and a theme is born.  That was my life in the month of September.

The two books I read, Toy Box Leadership and Inside Steve’s Brain , both focused on central themes of design, human connections and user experience.  Before this class started, I read Daniel Pink‘s A Whole New Mind and was also able to attend his speaking engagement on  campus.  One of his main themes was design and ingenuity.  He also stressed human connections, the ability to see the big picture and business’ ability to do something more for their customer.  So I found myself reading three amazing books within a short time period, seeing and meeting the author in person and participating in class discussions about the future of education and just what it takes to be an efficient and effective leader.  All of this weaved together to practically put my brain on overload.  I was able to see things differently and make connections among the text that reinforced my beliefs.  Then I got an opportunity to learn at one of the leading companies of the 21st century–Google.  All of this within weeks of reading these books, studying the history of great companies and exploring leadership possibilities.  Those weeks–were amazing and I felt a surge of knowledge and understanding within the core of my brain.

Inside Steve’s Brain, by Leander Kahney, is a biography of a great visionary.  Steve Jobs, Apple Corporation’s CEO,  has had (and continues to have) the innate ability to predict the future–especially when it comes to the types of technology the average person will buy, use and enjoy.  Kahney also wrote The Cult of Mac, which happens to be one of my favorite books.  In full disclosure, I am a Mac addict and find the whole company intriguing.  Even before I read this book, I was constantly amazed at how Mac products captivate a cult-like following.  It is even more apparent and understandable after reading this book.  Steve Jobs is a leader.  His strategies are, at times, unorthodox, but the bottom line is he gets results.

In the book Toy Box Leadership , Ron Hunter and Michael E. Waddell, Jr. write of not gluing your LEGOS together, that anticipating the future and that change it sure to occur.  They speak of pulling with courage and vision that allows your company to grow.  “Until a communicator with a passionate vision challenges us to do something great together, many times we struggle to find a meaningful purpose.” (Hunter, Waddell, Jr., 2008) They talk about aspirations, how to encourage people around you to reach out further, farther than they have before.  Good leaders tell their staff what they can achieve, then they recognize their accomplishments at steps along the way.  Steve Jobs does this at Apple.  He has courage and is a risk taker.  He has a vision that allows him to lead a company that develops and designs things we didn’t even know we needed and now seemingly can’t live without.

Jobs has been called the Walt Disney of this era.  He took a small company called Pixar and made it one of the most profitable movie studios in the world.  He is able to pull the best, most creative and talented people together to make magic.  He has an innate ability to find the very best person for the job.  He is a task master who uses artful delegation.  Hunter and Waddell would use the analogy of Little Green Army men and say that the success is in the setup.  The idea of a sandbox and development of strategy, understanding who goes where, how things get done, who does it and the constant reassessment of the plan in relation to progress are strategies from Toy Box that Steve has inside his brain for sure.  Stories of harsh treatment of people and employee firing in elevators are told like urban legends.  However few have actually been found to have any validity.  Steve Jobs understands that in order for a business to be successful, you need to have the right people doing the right job–and most of all they have to do it! Kahney writes of Jobs ability to “face hard decisions head on”.  Jobs has the ability to say no when needed and understands that his job is to focus on what he is good at–and delegate the rest. When he was faced with rebuilding Apple in the late 90′s, he had to strip the company down to just a few products.  Their line, at the time, included printers, monitors and peripheral equipment.  He wanted to be really good at developing just a small amount of things.  Spreading the company too thin had proved to be unhealthy for Apple.

Hunter and Waddell use Weebles as a symbol for persistence.  This is definitely a characteristic of Steve Jobs.  Apple was almost dead.  Steve Jobs successfully administered CPR and now it is one of the most successful companies of the 21st century.  Steve Jobs also surrounds himself with experienced mentors.  He doesn’t seek it out in terms of direct advice, but studies great visionaries. He has almost a “mystical reverence” for innovative people.  He speaks of meeting with Dr. Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid.  Their meeting was profound.  Dr. Land said that he always new the Polaroid camera existed, that he could see it as if it were real and sitting right in front of him and that it was his job to make it become reality.  He could see it before it was there.  Steve Jobs related to this in that he felt the same way about the Macintosh.  “It was as if it always existed.” Both Jobs and Land, Kahney writes, had the ability to not invent products, but discover them.

Steve Jobs is without a doubt one of the mostinnovative leaders of the modern age.  His focus is always on the user experience and his stated goal from the beginning was to “create easy-to-use technology for the widest possible audience.  Elitism, perfectionism, passion, despotism, inventive-spirit, and total control have helped Steve Jobs in the phoenix-like rebirth of Apple.  This glimpse inside the company provides a good balance between the factual and the fictitious stories of legend.  It was the perfect book to read after Toy Box Leadership as I believe that the spirit of play is what sparked the desire to create, develop and invent within Steve Jobs.


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