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.

5 comments on “Steve Jobs Focused on Network Intelligence
  • This is fascinating. Some interesting questions would be:

    1) How did Steve Jobs tap into the network of people that he already knew and considered friends and mentors (as opposed to reaching out to new people), cuz I know he did this as well.

    2) How did he build his network and/or gather network intelligence before he got to the point where he could meet with anyone he wanted due to his success & prominence.

  • Ben, this post is a beautiful tie-in to my second fave concept shared by you and Reid Hoffman in The Start-Up of YOU. The ability to tap network intelligence synthesize that data into something meaningful and actionable is a HUGE competitive advantage. And, obviously this was another aspect of Steve Jobs’ genius.

    In the past five days, I’ve been reading just about anything / everything I can get my hands on regarding Apple & Jobs. Thank you for posting the Lashinsky book because I forgot about that one (I’ve now got it Amazon Wish Listed to remind me).

    I’m hoping that Jony Ive will take on this role (described in your post) for Apple either formally or informally. He seems to me to be that one person in Apple who should keep pushing to understand “so what’s next …” (even more so than Tim Cook).

    Why? Because it’s Ive who mostly carries the innovation spirit of Jobs from their collaborative partnership from the past 15 years. And, Ive is finally (and rightfully so) getting more of the spotlight and credit he deserves regarding the innovations and ideas that produced Apple’s most innovative products (i.e., iPhone, MacBook Air, and iPad).

    Now, would be the time for Ive to step up and leverage that “status” so he can more easily access the folks who readily took Steve Jobs’ cold calls. Now, would be the time to leverage the network intelligence density of Silicon Valley.

    I just hope Jony chooses to stay at Apple. In my opinion, if he ever decided to leave, that would be a damaging blow for the organization.

  • Good one Ben,
    The practice you describe is essential to understand and actually see the “global picture” in trends, tech, and especially social…
    I think of it more as orchestrating obformation flows than traditional networking or information management. In my new role at LEGO this practice will be key.


  • Ben, great example on why your network can be so powerful. How do you reconcile the comments that Jobs was a “jerk” with his networking success? Forbes article:

    Perhaps his success came from networking with the influencers & trendsetters and being a jerk to the people he needed to execute (i.e. his employees).

    Also, the DropBox story is a good tie-in to the networking to find market trends.

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