Friday, August 2, 2013

Bill Parcells and Steve Jobs

It was a bit of a shock when I realized that I admired Bill Parcells. It was even more of a shock when I realized that Bill Parcells was the first and (at the time) only person I admired. While I also respected historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, those feelings were based on intellectual calculation... an evaluation of their accomplishments and sacrifices made. My feelings for Bill Parcells ran much deeper than that. They were visceral. I didn't expect or want to have them; they were just there — something for me to sort out and deal with later.

The year was 1994 and Parcells was in the process of rebuilding my beloved Patriots and guiding them to a Super Bowl. What I remember most was the aura he had about him. It felt like he had a system for turning around franchises and getting the most out of his players. There was the sense that, if you had a young team with tons of potential, you should bring in some Parcells guys for veteran leadership. They would instill a team ethic in the locker room and mentor the younger players on the field. Parcells guys were smart and tough, and knew how to win. Not everyone wanted to (or could) play for Parcells, but those that did became better players and developed an intentionality that they could then pass on to others.

It is amazing how many players and assistant coaches mentored by Parcells have turned around and become mentors themselves. There are so many that Bill Parcells is considered to be at the root of his own coaching tree. It was also significant to me that Parcells turned around three consecutive franchises: the Giants, Patriots, and Jets. He didn't stumble on the right chemistry; he brought it with him wherever he went and knew the recipe.

Although I knew Steve Jobs before I knew Bill Parcells, my admiration for Jobs came later after he founded Pixar and NeXT Computer. Like Parcells, Jobs had an intentionality about him. Jobs developed his during his exile from Apple. He learned how to instill a culture of innovation and risk-taking and get the most out of people. I've never worked for Google or Apple, but I imagine that people go to Google to do their best work while people at Apple come to discover what their best really is.

Jobs hired Joel Podolny to develop Apple University to help sustain the culture at Apple. It is far too early to know how effective this initiative will be, but executives leaving Apple have not been as successful as the Parcells guys have been. Jon Rubenstein failed at Palm and Ron Johnson failed at JCPenney; Tony Fadell seems to be doing okay at Nest Labs.

However, where Jobs has an edge over Parcells is his ability to execute on a longer term vision. No, Jobs did not invent the GUI. But he was able to recognize its potential and the future of computing when he saw it at Xerox PARC, something that hundreds of other people, including the executives at Xerox, failed to do. After Apple released the Macintosh in 1984, it took Microsoft eight years to develop Windows 3.1 (the first truly usable version of Windows) and another three years to develop Windows 95 (the first mainstream version of Windows). And keep in mind that Microsoft had early access to Mac OS as they were developing Word and Excel for the Macintosh. This means that it took Microsoft ten years to develop a polished GUI when they had Mac OS to use as a blueprint and knew that the market existed. Can you imagine the balls it took to develop a polished GUI for ten years from a bunch of tech demos when virtually no one believed in it? And then Apple did it again 23 years later with iOS and the iPhone/iPad.

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