Steve Jobs Focused on Network Intelligence

I read Adam Lashinky’s new book Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–And Secretive–Company Really Works on my flight to Doha, and I picked up a bunch of nuggets. Here’s one section that jumped out:

An unsung attribute of Steve Jobs that Apple also will miss is his role as a masterful networker and gatherer of information…He furiously worked the phones, calling up people he’d heard were worthy and requesting a meeting. No one turned down the chance to meet with Jobs, of course, and he used the opportunity to soak up information. His uncanny insight into trends in business and technology weren’t a fluke. Jobs worked hard for his market intelligence.

It follows with a story of Jobs hearing that Lytro was a cool company, calling the company’s CEO and inviting the Lytro CEO over to his house to discuss cameras and product design. According to the Forbes cover piece on Dropbox, Jobs did something similar with the founders of Dropbox. And surely countless other entrepreneurs.

Some of these conversations are of course driven with M&A in mind, but I follow Lashinsky’s point that much of this is Jobs’s instinct to always be pulling intelligence from his network about what’s happening in the world in order to be a more effective and informed professional.

Jobs took advantage of the density of Silicon Valley. He could summon the best young entrepreneurs, like Drew Houston, to his office on a day’s notice. He went on walks with Mark Zuckerberg. This is probably one reason he evangelized the region so much–increased density equals increased network intelligence for those living in the density.

Jobs was tapping networks inside Silicon Valley but outside of Apple corporate–and this was crucial. Lashinsky writes, “The rest of the crew at Apple is either too busy to schmooze or was always discouraged by Jobs from doing it, lest they get too big for their britches or too distracted from their Apple work.” Jobs once said he didn’t want to let exec Scott Forstall “out of the office” — which is great if someone needs to just put their head down and execute, but tunnel vision is not super helpful for fresh ideation.

Lashinksy asks who at Apple will be gathering this outside-the-company network intel with Jobs gone. It’s a good question. Meanwhile, we can all be asking ourselves a similar question in our careers: How are we pulling network intelligence from diverse sources in order to be better at the job we already have or to find a new opportunity? That’s a key theme of The Start-up of You.

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