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The Wisdom of [Fake] Steve

oPtion$: The Secret Life of Steve JobsA Parody by Fake Steve Jobs(Da Capo Press; $22.95)During the Center for Automotive Research’s (www.cargroup.org) Management Briefing Seminar this past August, there was an astonishing number of speakers who cited Apple with the kind of respect and admiration that is uncommon, especially when one takes into account the fact that typically people at automotive conferences don’t talk about anything other than automobiles (or themselves, if they’re in the consulting business). Every now and then there is a citation of Boeing, but that’s another story.Apple’s product development.

oPtion$: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs
A Parody by Fake Steve Jobs
(Da Capo Press; $22.95)

During the Center for Automotive Research’s (www.cargroup.org) Management Briefing Seminar this past August, there was an astonishing number of speakers who cited Apple with the kind of respect and admiration that is uncommon, especially when one takes into account the fact that typically people at automotive conferences don’t talk about anything other than automobiles (or themselves, if they’re in the consulting business). Every now and then there is a citation of Boeing, but that’s another story.

Apple’s product development. Apple’s design. Apple’s return from the dead. Apple’s creation of markets. Apple’s Appleness.

Actually, I felt pretty good about all of the run that the company was getting, not because I happen to be an Applephile (actually, “Fake Steve Jobs” would undoubtedly consider me to be a “frigtard,” as this is being composed on a Windows machine), but because we had actually run a picture of the iPhone on the cover of our August issue (August 2007), so there is a bit of validation for us.

Most of us imagine that the direction and vision of the Real Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, Apple bounced out of the basket, Apple back in and on top, Apple maestro, are what has made the company so phenomenally successful. Given Jobs’s visibility and character, which seem rather, um, different than those of most chief executives that many of us are aware of (we’re talking public persona here; there’s no accounting for what is happening otherwise), he is a ripe target for some skewering. Which is what happened on a blog, “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs” (http://fakesteve.blogspot.com), which has morphed into a book, oPtion$, which is easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. As it turns out, Fake Steve is actually Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes. While one might think that anyone working for the self-proclaimed “Capitalist’s Tool” might be somewhat more reverential to someone who is spinning off great wealth, it is hard to imagine how Lyons could be any more irreverent (e.g.,—and it’s almost overwhelming trying to pick just one example—“Thing is, I should hate Bono, if only because he stole my shtick—mendacity and avarice disguised with false modesty and lots of noise about wanting to make the world a better place . . .”).

Consider: “I’m often asked about my management style, especially since I gave that amazing commencement speech at Stanford”—which you can find here: http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html—“and everyone realized what an incredibly deep thinker I am. I’ve seen those Internet rumors about how I didn’t really write that speech, how I hired some ghostwriter. All I can say is: Please. The guy fixed some grammar errors and punched it up a bit. But I’m the one who spent half a day in Longs Drug Store reading Hallmark cards to gather material.” Which leads Fake Steve to provide some of his management tips, as in:

  • “. . .[Jack] Welch says do a lot of reviews and always let people know where they stand. I say, No way. In fact, quite the opposite. Never let people know where they stand. Keep them guessing. Keep them afraid. Otherwise they get complacent. Creativity springs from fear.”
  • “You don’t have to hire the best people. You can hire anyone, as long as you scare the s--t out of them. That’s the key. The fear. This applies not only to assembly line and factory workers but to all of your staff, including top executives and even the board of directors. A corollary to this rule is: Only promote stupid people. But not just any stupid people. You have to find the certain type of stupid people who actually believe they’re super brilliant. They make insanely great managers and are incredibly easy to manipulate. It’s easy to spot them. Former McKinsey consultants are top candidates.”
  • “The MBAs say you should set high standards, let people know what’s expected of them, and hold them to that. I do a little twist on that and say, Hold people to an impossibly high standard, but here’s the twist—don’t tell them what that standard is. And fire them if they fall short.”
  • “Another MBA rule that I never follow is where they say a CEO or manager should be consistent and predictable. I say the opposite. Be inconsistent and unpredictable. Be random. One day say something is great and the guy who made it is a genius. The next day say it’s crap, and he’s a moron. Watch how hard that guy will work now, trying to impress you.”
  • “My motto is this: No praise. Ever. You start praising people and pretty soon they start thinking they’re as smart as you are. You cannot have this. All employees must know at all times that you are better in every way than they are.”

Actually, there is a plot to this book, which has to do with the backdating of some stock options. But the plot is not merely secondary or tertiary; it merely provides the basis for FSJ to make what are almost always exceedingly outrageous observations. As he notes, “One of my great strengths—maybe my greatest strength—is that I never listen to anything that anyone else says.”

One of Fake Steve Jobs’s observations makes me wonder whether Apple would have gotten quite so much laudable attention at the Management Briefing Seminar had it been widely known: “Look at the crappy cars that get made in Detroit, where nobody ever gets fired.” Some people might say that there’s nothing satirical about the second half of that sentence.—GSV