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Many among us are fond of quoting Voltaire's observation that perfect is the enemy of good.

Micromanagers are seemingly universally loathed as "bad managers [who] are too distracted by their own egos, paychecks or insecurities to recognize how self-destructive they are."

Yet Fortune Magazine's CEO Of The Decade is Steve Jobs, who is something of an icon among hackers, is also a micromanager ("He'd say, 'The third word in the fourth paragraph isn't right. You might want to think about that one.'") and perfectionist.

How can the disconnect be reconciled?

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"How can the disconnect be reconciled?"

Simple: there is only one Steve Jobs.

He is so many standard deviations away from your average manager that a totally different set of rules apply.

It's also a matter of what Jobs micromanages. I could be mistaken, but it sounds like he's a perfectionist in terms of *results*. That's quite different from (and not nearly as bad as) a manager who micromanages *process* -- i.e. how you get to those results.

Posted by Joe Grossberg on Nov 17, 2009 at 03:18 PM UTC - 6 hrs

It seems to me, Jobs's style instills a drive for perfection in the people who encounter him, and it is that drive that produces better results. Jobs himself does not need to look at every screen of text. But his management style creates a culture that every word on every screen needs to be perfect, and that culture makes each person who writes a screen of text take a really close look at it. Nobody wants to be the one Jobs yells at. Jobs seeing a problem and yelling about it isn't the key step of the process; the key step is every engineer proactively looking for problems and fixing them before Jobs would ever see them. It's the culture Jobs's perfectionism instills that gets better results, not Jobs's perfectionism itself.

To look at it another way, Jobs would be a very very ineffective manager if he *had to look at every single screen of text* in OS X and approve them. That would be micromanagement. But that's not what he does. He expects the highest quality in what he *does* look at, and points out every remaining problem he sees. That's perfectionism.

(Disclosure: I have never worked at Apple or interacted with Steve Jobs. I have a few friends who work at Apple currently, but we've only discussed their work in generalities. My father worked for Apple for a long time, but deep down in engineering pretty far from Jobs.)

This article from Ars Technica also seems quite relevant.
http://arstechnica.com/staff/fatbits/2009/05/hyper...

Posted by Joe Auricchio on Nov 18, 2009 at 04:28 AM UTC - 6 hrs

The Perfect - Good scale is too often used as an excuse to do something bad. I was taught that "If a job's really worth doing, its still worth doing badly." That at least is honest.

Apple isn't perfect (or why would you buy the upgrade) - it just strives to much higher levels of "Good" than most people achieve.

Posted by John Donnelly on Nov 23, 2009 at 04:27 AM UTC - 6 hrs

@Joe Grossberg:

> Simple: there is only one Steve Jobs.

I have to admit I anticipated this answer. =) It's probably the right one as well.

> It's also a matter of what Jobs micromanages. I could be mistaken, but it sounds like he's a perfectionist in terms of *results*.

That could be the case, but the example given quotes a level of micromanagement I'd find ludicrous, but that I could see myself getting at: "The third word in the fourth paragraph isn't right. You might want to think about that one."


@Joe Auricchio:

>It seems to me, Jobs's style instills a drive for perfection in the people who encounter him, and it is that drive that produces better results. Jobs himself does not need to look at every screen of text. But his management style creates a culture that every word on every screen needs to be perfect, and that culture makes each person who writes a screen of text take a really close look at it.

I can see this as something we could learn from. I wonder how his style motivates everyone in the chain like you mentioned? Is he a mean bastard where people fear offending him, or does he cultivate it some other way? Those are hypothetical questions that I don't expect you to have answers for - just something to think about.

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Nov 30, 2009 at 09:36 AM UTC - 6 hrs

Good observation.

Perfectionism is not the problem. Pursuing perfection without producing value is the problem.

Micromanagement is not the problem. Interrupting your people while they are doing their job is the problem.

Posted by Harry Chou on Dec 01, 2009 at 09:15 PM UTC - 6 hrs

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