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Imitation is NOT “Insanely Great”

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Imitation is the sincerest demonstration of a lack of creativity

Much has been written in the past few month about the genius of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Since his death last year, Jobs has been hailed as a business guru, an Edison for the 21st century. And rightly so.

It’s no secret that virtually every company on the planet would love to be as successful as Apple. The company that was nearly out of business just 15 years ago has revolutionized the way we communicate, amassing a huge pile of cash and changing entire global industries in the process.

Steve Jobs was unquestionably key to Apple’s achievements. There’s no doubt he saw products and concepts in a way that few can. In short, he was a visionary. So it’s understandable that other business leaders (and would-be leaders) want to follow in his footsteps.

The Wall Street Journal reports (see link) that many managers are now combing through Walter Isaacson’s recently published biography of Jobs to glean leadership ideas. Some are going so far as to imitate Jobs’ actions, and one CEO has even adopted Jobs’ trademark black turtleneck office attire.

The Walrus is not unsympathetic to managers. In a past life, I used to be a middle manager myself, albeit a bad one. And yes, there are always books and tips for managers about how to do a difficult job better. When I attended Walrus State U., the buzzwords of the management world included management by objectives, (MBO), management by walking around (MBWA) and various other forms of  management theory by alphabet soup.

There was the One Minute Manager. Then someone moved the cheese. Someone else tossed a fish. And so on and on and on. So it makes sense that today’s managers want to achieve success by emulating one of the greatest business innovators of the past 50 years.

But here’s the thing — Adopting Steve Jobs’ management style, sartorial flourishes and all, won’t work. It won’t work for one simple reason — you’re not Steve Jobs. If you were, you would already be as successful as he was. To use a once-popular motivational cliché, eagles don’t flock. Jobs was a singular success because he was able to dream beyond the ordinary.

Besides, there’s significant evidence that for all his business success, Jobs the man could be difficult to work for and to live with. As with many geniuses in many fields, he could be famously grouchy and intolerant of lesser mortals (see, Edison, Thomas; Ford, Henry; or Feynman, Richard). Although it worked at Apple, a company he co-founded, his blunt style won’t work everywhere.

Instead of trying to copy Jobs, why not try being yourself? There’s a novel concept. Talk to your team members, work with them, find out what motivates them. Let your own signature management style develop, and you will reach success by being your own first-class man or woman. Not by trying to be a cut-rate someone else.

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