Regarding my management style

So I’m often asked about my management style. Especially since I gave that amazing commencement speech and everyone realized what an incredibly deep thinker I am. (And you know, I’ve seen those Internet rumors about how I didn’t really write that speech, how I just 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 the one who spent half a day in Longs Drug Store reading friggin Hallmark cards to gather material.)

Anyhoo, my management style. Okay. I’m a little geeked about sharing my secrets, so I won’t tell you everything. I’m saving the best stuff for the book I plan to write after I leave here. Then again, I’m probably not gonna be around much longer so here’s a little taste.

Most important thing is I never subscribed to the conventional wisdom of the East Coast management “experts” like Jack Welch, who used to run General Electric or General Motors, I can never remember which one. For example. 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. Think of a painter, or a writer, or a composer working furiously in his studio, afraid he’s going to starve to death if he doesn’t get this piece of work just right. That’s where greatness comes from. Well, same goes for engineers and designers at Apple and Pixar. They come in every day knowing it could be their last day. They work like hell, trust me.

Because you know what? Fear works. Look at the crappy cars that get made in Detroit, where they have these jobs for life and union rules and nobody is worried about anything. Now compare that to the stuff that gets made in Vietnamese sweatshops. Or the bridge in “The Bridge over the River Kwai.” That bridge was friggin perfect. Please don’t say it was because the Brits were just these amazing perfectionists who wanted to do this ace job. Come on. I love the Brits but these are not people who are known for the quality of their workmanship. Ever bought a British car? Okay, enough said. No, what motivated those lazy, stupid Brits was their fear of the efficient, vicious Japanese. You put people’s lives in danger, and they do their best work.

Obviously we can’t literally put our employees’ lives at risk. But we have to make them feel that way. This requires a lot of psychological manipulation on our part. But look at the result. You think we could have made OS X so reliable if our engineers didn’t believe in their hearts that every time a bug surfaced one man was going to be killed?

Which leads me to my next management myth. You don’t have to hire the best people. You can hire anyone, as long as you scare the bejesus out of them. That’s the key, the fear. This applies not only to assembly line and factory type workers but to all of your staff, including top executives and even the board of directors. In fact, especially the board of directors. A corollary to this rule is this: 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 super easy to manipulate. It’s pretty 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. You know what that does to people? Makes them friggin crazy. And guess what. Crazy people are more creative. And more productive. Every shrink in the world knows this. Go rent “A Beautiful Mind” if you don’t believe me.

Another MBA type rule that I never follow is where they say a CEO or manager should be consistent and predictable. I say just the opposite. Be inconsistent and unpredictable. Be totally 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 frigtard. Wait a few days, and repeat the process. Watch how hard that guy will work now, trying to impress you.

Management gurus also tell you to reward performance, and dole out loads of praise. I disagree. 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. Repeated criticism, in the most humiliating fashion, is one way to accomplish this. Once you have established your superiority you must make a big deal of being super modest and humble in public. Toss around some Zen type stuff, and tell people you’re a super-progressive liberal.

One way to keep people’s spirits broken is to fire people on a regular basis for no reason. Fly off the handle, shout at people, call them names, then fire them. Or better yet. Don’t fire them. So they think they survived. Then wait a few days, till they’re totally relaxed, and then fire them. It’s all part of creating and maintaining the culture of fear. I’ve blogged about this before, how Jon Ive and I will play the “John Allen Muhammad” game and pick some random reason to fire someone, like we’ll just fire the first person we meet with red hair, or the first person who dares to speak to us without being spoken to first. See here.

I also keep an eye out for enemies and potential insurrections, and I kill them off quickly. My advice here is simple: Be friggin ruthless. Good example. I told you recently how some of Tim Cook’s loyalists are dragging their heels in engineering, trying to make me look bad. So here’s what I did. I called a meeting with a bunch of these bastards. I told them, Look, the Apple keyboard is not small enough. So instead of a regular qwerty keyboard, we’re going to make it like a cell phone keypad, where each key has three letters. Right away we cut the alphabet portion by two-thirds. Sure, people will have to re-learn how to type. But if we make this keyboard beautiful enough, and if we charge enough money, like say maybe five hundred bucks, they’ll switch. You know they will. Remember: these are people who spend 500 bucks extra, on average, just because a computer is shiny white.

So these idiots all went around taking turns about how this new keyboard was a great idea and they started brainstorming some ideas for names, until I cut them off and and stood up and said, No! No! This a stupid idea! You’re all fired, you assholes! If I can’t trust you to tell me when an idea is stupid, why are you here? Get out! Right now! I called security and had them taken out in handcuffs and didn’t even let them clear their desks. Family photos, personal items, car keys — all into the trash. Tough noogies, traitors.

Well, that’s my little food for thought, and I hope you find it helpful. I could go on all day but my new buddy Ja’red is here to work out with me on our climbing wall, after which we’ve got some killer fruit smoothies on the agenda. Peace out.