Friday, May 25, 2012

Be your own role model

I was browsing at my local Barnes & Noble last night, and I noticed that the Business section seems to be getting its own "Steve Jobs" department: In addition to Walter Isaacson's biography, there's "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs," The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs," "The Steve Jobs Way," "Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different," "Insanely Simple," and on and on. There's clearly a big market for books about Steve Jobs, reflecting a great deal of interest. Does that mean that you should model yourself after him?

Consider that when Steve Jobs first started Apple with Steve Wozniak, the leading company in Silicon Valley was Hewlett Packard. Company founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and their "HP Way", were the models for many technology companies in the Valley and beyond. Wozniak had even worked at HP's calculator division for a time. Yet, Jobs and Apple didn't try to emulate HP. Jobs had his own philosophy about how a company should be run and how his employees should be treated. The signature companies that were founded in HP's model, Tandem and ROLM, no longer exist.

Founders' personalities and their companies are very much a matched set--either the combination works or it doesn't. Trying to emulate a successful founder's personality rarely works; trying to model that style and then impose it on a different organization almost never works. The most successful people follow their own path; they take lessons from others, but they don't try to emulate them. That's why slavish mimicking of how Steve Jobs thought, or how he ran Apple, is doomed to failure. The best that you can possibly be is a second- or third-rate imitation of Jobs. You're much more likely to be successful by being a first-rate version of yourself.
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