3 Effective (If Slightly Evil) Persuasion Tricks You Can Learn From Steve Jobs
The guy was a jerk but he accomplished amazing things. Those two facts aren’t unrelated.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
As my Inc.com colleague Bill Murphy, Jr. succinctly put it in a post earlier this year, "Steve Jobs Was a Creative Genius. Steve Jobs Was a Total Jerk." Seven years after his death few would deny that the guy both changed the world and wasn't always particularly nice.
In a fascinating and in-depth new article Business Insider's Dave Smith argues those two facts aren't unrelated. Combing through biographies and firsthand accounts of working with Jobs, Smith makes the case that the Apple boss used "used a blend of manipulative tactics to ensure his victories" and generate his famed "reality distortion field charisma."
These techniques aren't always pretty, but they are effective. Which is why we could all benefit from looking under the hood at what made Jobs so persuasive. Here are three of the many tricks Smith digs into.
1. Be brutally honest.
Early Apple employee turned top investor Guy Kawasaki likes to tell the story of how he passed "the Steve Jobs IQ test."
"One day Steve Jobs showed up in my cubicle with a man that I didn't know. He didn't bother to introduce him; instead he asked, 'What do you think of a company called Knoware?'" relates Kawasaki. Having a low opinion of the company, Kawasaki trashed their products in front of the stranger. "After my diatribe, [Jobs] said to me, 'I want you to meet the CEO of Knoware, Archie McGill.'"
That must have been more than a little awkward for Kawasaki but it taught the Apple newcomer that his boss highly valued brutal honesty, not only because it improves a business, but also because it sets high standards, conveys the importance of the work, keeps others on the back foot, and generally helps build a strong following.
"People would buy into Jobs' ideas because he was always earnest about what he said," Smith writes, citing this Jobs quote: "I don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest. I know what I'm talking about, and I usually turn out to be right."
2. Change your mind... but pretend you didn't.
Lots of brilliant business people understand the importance of having the humility to look at fresh evidence and change your opinion, but Jobs took things a step further. When he changed his mind, he pretended that his new opinion had always been his opinion. And he was merciless about claiming other people's ideas as his own.
Smith quotes former Mac engineer Bud Tribble as evidence. "Just because he tells you something that is awful or great, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll feel that way tomorrow," Triddle said of Jobs. "If you tell him a new idea, he'll usually tell you that he thinks it's stupid. But then, if he actually likes it, exactly one week later, he'll come back to you and propose your idea to you, as if he thought of it."
That's how Jobs convinced everyone he was right all the time, Smith concludes.
3. Be strategic with flattery.
Some well-meaning commentators like to argue that being a good person and being a good leader are pretty close to synonymous -- you need to be honest, humble, empathetic, etc. Jobs wasn't buying it. While he often demanded (and dished) out brutal honesty to those he worked with and admired, he was also more than willing to employ flattery to win over people be needed but didn't respect.
Smith pulls this passage from Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs as an illustration: "Jobs could seduce and charm people at will, and he liked to do so. People such as (former Apple CEOs) Amelio and Sculley allowed themselves to believe that because Jobs was charming them, it meant that he liked and respected them. It was an impression that he sometimes fostered by dishing out insincere flattery to those hungry for it. But Jobs could be charming to people he hated just as easily as he could be insulting to people he liked."
Before you recoil in horror at this approach, know that Jobs is far from alone among great leaders leaning on flattery and deception.
"It is sometimes necessary to do bad things to achieve good results," Stanford management professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has written. "Some of the most successful and admired leaders--for example, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy--were above all pragmatists, willing to do what was necessary to achieve important objectives."
Are these techniques Smith outlines in his article nice? Nope, not at all. But they can help you get things done, so it's worth at least learning how one of the most creative entrepreneurs ever employed them.