Fury of Steven Jobs—a Theory, Part 1

Many years ago, sitting in a crowded conference room now infamous ad agency, Regis McKenna, I participated in an account briefing for Apple Computer.

My role as a junior account executive on the Apple account more or less required that I observe, take notes, and keep my mouth shut—a veritable fly on the wall history.

The burning topic of the day, an important point to resolve, and marching orders to take entailed the “strategic positioning” of the Apple III computer, with our collective goal of differentiating the soon-to-launch (but ultimately doomed) next-generation personal computer with a wildly successful Apple II personal computer.

Hosted and facilitated by the masterclass marketer, Regis McKenna, himself, the discussion began, like many good and well-intended discussions, within essential question: “What is the desired positioning of the new Apple III?”.

Little did I realize then, and it would take me decades more of investigation and introspection, to understand the power, the unsettling transformational effect, the stupendous up-ending leverage of a well-framed and perfectly timed question, the asking of which reveals a progressive, non-linear set of better, more penetrating questions to ask, the attempting of which to answer, drives everyone in the discussion into a deeper inquiry.

Little did I know that Regis had mastered the art of the well-trained, perfectly timed essential question, framed not as a heuristic, not as an answer-seeking conceit that drives everyone to a forgone conclusion—the agenda-point of the person asking the question. Regis’ question constituted a penetrating inquiry, the engaging in which, we find ourselves in an entirely new realm of imagination, magically transported by the power of not just linguistic metaphor, but by the power of an unbending intent to reveal a hidden, yet ever present truth.

A rather bizarre discussion emerged that, in the fullest sense of the word, quickly devolved into a big mess,  opening three or four concurrent cans of worms: positioning of the Apple II,  the suggested positioning of the Apple III (in contradistinction to that of the Apple II), the inferred positioning of Apple Computer and, of course, the semantics and meaning of “strategic”, “positioning”, and “brand identity”.

And then, boom! This provoked the now famous temper of Steve Jobs, “Shut the ‘fark’ up everyone. I will tell you what our farking strategic position is.”

The room grew very quiet, still, yet pregnant with the possibility, stretching both our imaginations and our ability to live in a powerful paradox of knowing with absolute certainty that none of those knew the answer, while open to the possibility that such an answer could exist, did exist, and must now come forth.

Again, it would take me decades to learn that essential questions, to use a funny but spot-on term from Neurolinguistic Programming, install a powerful,  not-to-ignored expectation, the experiencing of which opens both a demand to know and permission to receive, not just an answer, but an epiphany.

I must also add that sitting on the precipice of an epiphany entails extreme discomfort, a dynamic tension that feels as though some alien spawn has begun to eat my innards, tearing at the very fabric of my physical and emotional being.

Steve Jobs then declared, as the founder, in full force of the animating vision of a dynamic and successful entrepreneurial firm,  “If we asked all 4 million of our Apple customers what they most love about their experience of our computers, and distilled all 4 million comments down to a single phrase…that is our farking position!”

I will leave it to another day to address what Steve then went on to conclude, for that is, in the words of Walt Disney, another story, one worth telling but too long for here.

In my next installment on the Fury of Steve Jobs—a Theory, I will address the necessary preconditions, what one must feel as a visionary eccentric/founder, the feeling of which enables one to “pierce the tranquilized veil of obviousness”, to see the incipient truth of the situation that all others do not see, and to bring it forth as a transformational speech act, reorganizing the innards of a junior account executive fly-on-the-wall and everyone else in the room.

What frame of mind, what existential condition, what focus of being constitutes a precondition for the transformation of entrepreneurial vision into market disruption, wealth creation, and “a ding in the universe”?

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