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Steve Jobs, a stickler for every detail


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Steve Jobs was a stickler for details. From Jobs' point of view, every detail, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, mattered.

While this shouldn't strike anyone as being a monumental revelation, Jobs' focus on the little details that other CEOs might gloss over, or perhaps delegate to a marketing department, was brought to the forefront during Apple's recent e-book price-fixing trial.

During the trial, Apple executive Eddy Cue took the stand whereupon he explained how Jobs, at first, needed some convincing before deciding Apple should get into the e-book business. But once on board, Jobs was on board 100 percent.

Some of Cue's testimony, summarized by All Things D, highlights the degree to which Jobs did indeed sweat the small stuff. More than just giving the iBooks project the green light, Jobs was intimately involved in all aspects of the initiative.

  • The "page curls" in the iBook app, which show up when you flip an iBook's page? That's Steve Jobs' idea.
  • It was Jobs' idea to pick ""Winnie-the-Pooh" as the freebie book that came with every iBook app. Not just because Jobs liked the book, Cue said, but because it showed off iBook's capabilities: "It had beautiful color drawings, that had never been seen before in a digital book."
  • Jobs was also specific about the book he used to show off the iBook during his initial iPad demo in January 2010. He picked Ted Kennedy's "True Compass" memoir, because the Kennedy family "meant a lot to him," Cue said.

Cue's testimony underscored the fact that Jobs was a rare breed of CEO that was able to take a broad view of the technological landscape while simultaneously having an up close and personal role in the most minute aspects of Apple's products and services.

From having strong opinions regarding which songs should be used in iPod commercials to deciding which book should be included for free with each iBook app, Jobs instinctively understood that every detail mattered.

Recently, we covered a talk from legendary ad man Lee Clow who had a close working relationship with Jobs for over 25 years.

Clow relayed how Jobs believed that everything a brand does is a form of advertising, and to that end, no detail is ever insignificant.

Steve figured out that every way a brand touches you is a message, and it's either a positive message or it's a message that kind of contradicts what you thought about the brand.

This is why Apple, especially with Jobs at the helm, has always devoted a lot of resources towards ensuring the best user experience possible, whether it be the type of materials used in a product or the product packaging itself.

In a must-read piece that was published in the wake of Jobs' passing, Google's Vic Gundotra recalled how Jobs once called him up on a Sunday because the shade of yellow Jobs noticed on the Google logo (while on his iPhone) just didn't look right.

"I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?" Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject "Icon Ambulance." The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon.
But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I'll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

It's also worth highlighting a blog post from Glenn Reid, a former director of Engineering at Apple who helped develop the first iterations of iPhoto and iMovie.

In a post titled, "What it's really like working with Steve Jobs", Reid writes about his time working up close and personal with Jobs on a project the Apple co-founder really cared about -- iMovie.

I can still remember some of those early meetings, with 3 or 4 of us in a locked room somewhere on Apple campus, with a lot of whiteboards, talking about what iMovie should be (and should not be). It was as pure as pure gets, in terms of building software. Steve would draw a quick vision on the whiteboard, we'd go work on it for a while, bring it back, find out the ways in which it sucked, and we'd iterate, again and again and again. That's how it always went. Iteration. It's the key to design, really. Just keep improving it until you have to ship it.


Toward the end of my time at Apple, we had standing meetings, once a week, for about 3 or 4 hours, in the Board Room at Apple, to go through what were known internally as the "iApps" - iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, and later iDVD. Over the course of some years, that's a lot of CEO hours devoted to the details of some software apps -- and that was just the part that we saw...

Not only did he know and love product engineering, it's all he really wanted to do. He told me once that part of the reason he wanted to be CEO was so that nobody could tell him that he wasn't allowed to participate in the nitty-gritty of product design. He was right there in the middle of it. All of it. As a team member, not as CEO. He quietly left his CEO hat by the door, and collaborated with us. He was basically the Product Manager for all of the products I worked on, even though there eventually were other people with that title, who usually weren't allowed in the room :)

Now I'm sure other CEOs care about details too, but Jobs' ability to steer Apple's product roadmap while simultaneously playing a direct role in most everything Apple put out -- from hardware to software -- is truly remarkable.

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