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Leading Apple With Steve Jobs: Management Lessons From a Controversial Genius by Jay Elliot

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The Power of No

Steve had an uncanny ability to make decisions that were both instantaneous and solid—often to the utter frustration of his engineers. Sometimes his decisions seemed arbitrary, like not having more than a hundred people on the Mac team—based on his claim that he couldn’t remember everyone’s name if there were any more people than that.

He also had product boundaries. When we visited Sony and they showed us hundreds of products, Steve warned Sony cofounder Akio Morita that they had way too many, so many that customers had to be getting confused.

It was the threat of customer confusion that drove Steve to say no—No Newton, no licensing of Macintosh technology for other companies to make Mac clones, and so on. These were obvious examples of making sure our product boundaries fit our ultimate vision for the product family. Steve had the reputation of being a micromanager; he was, but it wasn’t arbitrary. It was for a very good reason: he was looking out for the customer.

I read a story once in Fast Company magazine about a group that came to Apple prepared with page after page in a presentation about a new feature for the Mac, for burning DVDs—copying music or videos from the computer to a DVD disk. Steve saw a few slides, with mocked-up screen shots and various menus along with engineering documentation.

About two minutes into the presentation, Steve said, “No, you don’t get it.” He went to the whiteboard, drew a small rectangle, and said something like, “Here’s how ...

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