Don’t be a jerk; innovate!

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Castanza7I was sad to note the passing of FT Tilt last week, the recently launched paid-for emerging markets blog from the Financial Times. Sad, not because it’s one less news outlet for us to pitch but sad because an innovation failed. In today’s globally competitive economy innovation is mission-critical to long-term success. But bravo to the good people at No. 1 Southwark Bridge for trying. This one might have closed down 10 months after starting up, but it seems there is a culture of innovation at the FT (its subscription model, Alphaville blog, etc.) that will ensure it’ll be just fine in the future.

When I heard the news I couldn’t help but think about Steve Jobs. Despite the recent hero worshiping from many quarters, some have taken a more balanced look back at his career. In an excellent article on Gawker, Apple’s authoritarian corporate culture is examined and the response to one particular failed innovation told:

Steve Jobs: "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, "So why the f*ck doesn't it do that?"

"You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he told them. "You should hate each other for having let each other down."

Jobs ended by replacing the head of the group, on the spot.

That doesn’t sound like a management culture that engenders innovation. This might be an odd thing to say about Apple, one of the most innovative companies around, but I guess we’re about to find out how much innovation came direct from the brain of Steve Jobs and how much filtered up from below. The same critique of a culture that suffocates innovation can be made of many other companies, especially those without a creative genius at the helm. Carol “F*ck You” Bartz at Yahoo, for example.

There is an interesting discussion developing on Fortune, with Gene Marks saying Steve Jobs Was A Jerk. Good For Him. Gene’s fellow contributor, David Coursey has posted a response Steve Jobs Was A Jerk, You Shouldn't Be. Coursey says:

My concern is that Gene might have hit a nerve among managers who haven’t found themselves and are willing to try whatever the business press declares to be the flavor of the moment. I can imagine headlines like “Are You Jerk Enough to be the Next Steve Jobs?” or “Want to Be Like Jobs? Be a Jerk!” or “Think Different: Like a Jerk!” or whatever will sell a book or magazine.

I am with Coursey on this one. I once heard from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur that an idea is the most fragile and precious of things. An idea can be stamped out and lost forever if someone doesn’t own it, nurture it and champion it. Being a shouty jerk might be the modus operandi for some managers, but it doesn’t lend itself to people in your company stepping forward with risky but potentially excellent ideas. We need to innovate to get ahead, so here’s hoping that innovative companies like the FT outweigh those where jerks rule.

5 thoughts on “Don’t be a jerk; innovate!

  1. Aw shucks, thanks guys! Appreciate the nice shout-outs. I can say proudly that the company I worked for back in 1995 was one of Peppercom’s first clients. RepMan Steve and I instantly bonded over our mutual love for the Fab 4.

  2. Julie’s an awesome person to work for, Carl. Next to Allison Adams, she’s one of the best clients we’ve ever had the pleasure to represent.

  3. I never thought that fear and intimidation were effective management tactics. Creativity should be inspired in a positive way, not provoked in a negative manner.