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Parable of the Stones (rexblog.com)
139 points by mikecane on Apr 24, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

The idea that Jobs is reacting against is essentially the "Great Man" theory of history as applied to business:


This idea states that it is the "great men" who are responsible for making the world we see today, through their force of will, powerful ideas and charisma.

And as it happens, that's how the public sees Steve Jobs today. So it's good to hear him tell a story that reminds us that he had a very different perspective on this idea.

I don't know about that. He was reacting against the mythology of the idea and ignorance of execution. It still might be (and I would argue in some cases it was with him) that there exist "great men" such that if you remove them, the product is wildly shittier, whereas if you remove almost anybody else in the process, the product is not necessarily that much worse.

Since reading Peter Thiel's excellent essay on secrets [1], I've been more constantly thinking if what people _seem_ to do or say, is actually how it is.

For example it can be good for Apple that public (and competition) saw Steve through the great man theory. Public loves heroes, and competition where thrown off with the possibly false explanation for their success ("we can't beat the great Steve").

I've been wondering if the same thing is happening with Elon Musk today. He plays the loveable underdog hero part well for PR (whether it's true or not) and doesn't never mention his staff or anyone by name or what they have done.

(When your hero dies, it can be a problem. Except if you make people believe that the hero's ideals still live through the others that we're close him/her.)

[1] http://blakemasters.com/post/22866240816/peter-thiels-cs183-...

Can Apple survive without Jobs? Who is shaking up the can until the product is polished?

Large organizations often take very smart people and very good ideas and then produce crap. The most successful organizations usually have one very strong leader with visionary ideas yet an incredible attention to product detail. Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Salesforce, Facebook... take away that one leader and they struggle. Because large organizations thrive on teamwork and not taking any big risks (if you are right, everyone basks in your glory, if you are wrong, your ass is on the line.)

Apples latest maps application was far from polished. Then their CEO fired the one guy who seemed willing to shake things up. I am looking forward to their next big thing, to see how polished it is.

May I ask how you know that Tim Cook, Jony Ive, or any other Apple exec isn't "shaking up the can"?

As a matter of fact their CEO fired the one guy who wasn't willing to shake things up. In fact, I think he was fired for that very reason.

Check out "From Good To Great" by Jim Collins. You'll find that the "most successful" organizations actually have a leader whose principal strength is their ability to find and empower the right people. These organizations have sustained, long-term growth that outlasts that one visionary.

Contrast with organizations like Chrysler, which under Lee Iacocca, became fantastically successful... Until he turned his gaze elsewhere and the organization of yes-men he built crumbled to the ground, unable to accomplish anything of their own volition.

Jobs appears to be an Iacocca-style leader. A great visionary with incredible personal willpower, who guided a company from obscurity to domination. And yet now that he's gone, you have to ask, who is left that has sufficient personal willpower and initiative to keep driving Apple's stock upward? Did Jobs' abrasive managerial tactics leave anyone with those qualities?

Those charismatic leaders who really shake things up also polish something else to a dull, boring gloss: other people.

Yes Apple can survive without Jobs because he cared about that too:


Here you can see how the people he left in Apple look and talk:


Some time ago I heard an 82-year-old lady talk about how her parents' marriage had been a happy one. She said that the whole time she was growing up, her mother kept a newspaper clipping on the family icebox that described marriage as a process by which "two stones are by friction made smooth". It was only later that she saw this as a sign that her parents did have their difficulties, and that her mother must have kept it there as a reminder.

The point is, these insights are proverbial.

This reminds me of a signature I once saw on a forum: "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.". As it turns out, that's actually proverbs 27:17.

A nice parable, but for anyone who has used a rock tumbler credibility is lost when you get polished stones in one day. It makes me wonder if the story is completely fabricated, or changed for brevity.

I laughed at that as well. Mine, back in 197x, took weeks. My son's, bought in 2009, took the same amount of time...

As much as I have a personal dislike for Jobs, I think this is advice that a lot of people fail to see value in. Having people who care standing up for their opinion and taking whatever comes out on top will often lead to the best product.

People need to stop avoiding friction between opinions and ideas and instead embrace it. That's how great things come about.

Weird to see all the comments criticizing the mention of Steve Jobs and the use of the word parable instead of people just concentrating on what this post is about, just an anecdote that may or not relate to your leadership style. Who cares of who made it and yes I understand the title was modified to sound more appealing but everything in life is modified to attract attention.

Welcome to HN. People call out sensational titles all the time.

Replace "Steve Jobs" with "Bill Gates", and you'd have a dozen people mocking the title and no discussion on the post.

Regardless of the merits of the discussion on the title, it's a great example of how little details matter and getting them wrong can convey something very different from what you intend.

If the author wants us to discuss the point he should get to it faster rather than droning on about apple stock and product pipelines.

300 words isn't so much that it's cumbersome to read, but it definitely primed me to think that his point was somehow specific to apple and investing when it wasn't at all. I'm not surprised that people have decided to nitpick it.

Yes but instead of nitpicking to criticize maybe we could use the same skill to filter out the bad parts and get to the good parts. I'm not saying I agree with the way the author presented the information, he thought it was the best way but that doesn't mean I have to completely ignore what he wrote based on that fact. It's pretty obvious to see in this post the relevant part to HN.

Whatever your religion, I think you could recognize that even the best CEOs should not be discussed in the same words and tone as Jesus Christ. This inhibits discussion by distracting and making opinions into holy doctrines when they should be discussed substantively as opinions. We are not absorbing holy teachings of gods here, we are discussing opinions of men which should be evaluated critically.

That's a very interesting perspective. However, I wasn't aware that Jesus Christ or Christianity had some monopoly on the word parable.


The part I liked best was:

"And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it."

I think this really relates to the hacker community because it shows that you can start with SOMETHING (Just go try something), and then later you can change it and modify it. The idea you start with is never the idea that comes out on the other side.

I have a seemingly simple, offline business that we had to pivot more than once to get it just right. We used feedback from our customers (and more importantly, would-be customers) to evolve and succeed. Thanks for posting this!

I have seen that video and it is a treasure of management advice. Other things: 1) When asked how he learnt to manage such a large company and aspects like finance, etc, he said (paraphrased): "as you do it, you just learn it". Makes starting and running a company sound more natural. 2) The other thing I remember he said: When sales guys get promoted to the level of CEO, they don't understand that their company runs because of a product and that is how they provide value to their customers, instead they just think of more sales channels, wider markets, etc. In doing so, they kill the entire process that created the company's product in the first place.

This is excellent advice. This parallels with finding rocks once polished then putting them through the machine again during hiring.

Implying that the Job's quote can promise future innovation is a bit of a stretch. It is a good story, I agree. Without the occasional frictions and collisions, it is almost impossible to make a group of highly talented people produce great results.

Having said that, just having a highly talented team without good leadership is disastrous. The role of the leader is more important than the sum of talents of the team. He inspires the team to a common vision and ignites passion. The term 'passionate team' becomes meaningless without a shared vision.

What makes good leadership? If you have a highly talented team, good leadership might be less leadership and a shared vision might require nothing more than everyone receiving the same assignment. This mentality is what makes some poor "leaders" put themselves ahead of everyone and claim credit for everything. It wouldn't be foreign to Dilbert's pointy-haired boss.

These Jobs' hagiographies are becoming tiresome.

As are these complaints...

Maybe it's just me, but the Jobs worship on HN is getting pretty annoying.

No more that the fawning over Google, or the posting of everything Linus says in his G+ stream, or the over-the-top criticism/lack criticism of Microsoft. Here is an idea; if it bothers you that much, don't read articles about Apple or Jobs, and don't comment on them either.

Apologies for the snark, but this type of comment is lazy and pointless. Trolling at it's most insipid.

this type of comment is lazy and pointless. Trolling at it's most insipid.

Here is an idea; if it bothers you that much, don't read it and don't comment on it either.

I see what you did there. Very clever. I do tend to avoid the fawning articles about the actors I mentioned, hence the free advice. You what you and the others posting the soporific "bored of the Jobs worship" nonsense, or downvoting without reply, miss in the article is the take away that the anecdote is offering. This is due to your views of an individual that lead a company you deem less than worthy, for whatever ideological reason. Take the protagonist out of the story and it remains a good story. But you keep on doing what you are doing. No, really, your counter point was insightful.

Hold your horses, I was just replying to your comment, not the article content.

If people like the article, they should comment with why. If people don't like it, they should likewise do so. That way people can have discussions. The "if you don't like it go somewhere else" line of thinking is vapid and the world would be worse off if everybody did that. People should challenge each other.

When some has commented "Maybe it's just me, but the Jobs worship on HN is getting pretty annoying.", it is vapid, as you say and without any tangible value or merit. It's not a particularly useful or constructive discussion and it certainly doesn't "challenge" anything or anyone. It's whining, and IMHO trolling. As I pointed out, there seems to me to be as much fawning of Linus' G+ comments. As the OP of this particular branch perhaps admires Linus, he doesn't notice it as much. Cognitive bias in action. My suggestion, which I totally stand by, yet apologised for, was actually meant constructively.

When some has commented "Maybe it's just me, but the Jobs worship on HN is getting pretty annoying.", it is vapid, as you say and without any tangible value or merit.

I disagree. It started a discussion and then you replied with how it isn't really out of line for things that people like.

Cognitive bias in action.

Yes, I agree. That's why it is good that the person commented and you replied. If they had just ignored the article, they wouldn't have received that information. How would anybody ever learn anything if we just read and discussed those things we already agree with?

Nothing of merit. It's wasted the time of at least three people. If the OP had kept such a petty thought to themselves, the world would be no worse off. Nothing insightful has been shared...

Will no one rid us of these Steve Job's parables. Wisdom has no correlation to success.

Since he ran the company, he must have done something right. He wasn't always right but he did have repeatable success. When he took over Apple in the late 1990's, Apple was almost dead.

Btw, here's some of his advice that I alway try to remember:


It shows he understood the creative process better than 99% of corporate CEO's and that might explain his success

People who are successful like a little inspirational boost once in a while no?

Doesn't mean there's no value to be gleaned from this quote.

I don't know about this author's history, but the connotations of "parable" in this case make it seem a bit over the top. Another Steve J.C. Jobs story; we've even given it a snicker-worthy nearly-Biblical name.

The interview snippet itself isn't bad; while I see the point he was making, it's not terribly strong or well-stated, and quite honestly it doesn't deserve its own proper name. It's worth reading, but if it had been Jobs' intention for this to be worthy of the title "parable," I'm quite sure he'd have been able to throw it back in the coffee can for another few cycles and turn it into something worth repeating.

"A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or (sometimes) a normative principle."

It is a story with an instructive principle. Shrug.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable

Blah, blah, blah. It was a cool story; the man clearly had some important insight into the world and the making of a successful product. Can't we just try to take something from it instead of nit-picking?

Can't we just present the interesting insight without using religious language and deifying the man?

A parable is a kind of short story that uses metaphor or example to make a single, obvious point (sometimes explained outright). It's exactly the right word to describe the story Steve Jobs tells in the quoted section.

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