The late Steve Jobs was a man known for strong opinions, but what’s often missed is the fluidity with which he shifted those opinions. Often on a dime. Former Apple executive Ron Johnson—who designed and implemented Apple’s feet of retail stores—told a story to Kara Swisher that exemplifies that quality in Mr. Jobs.
In an interview for Recode Decode, Mr. Johnson described how Steve Jobs gave him a lot of pushback for the Genius Bar concept. That pushback, though vociferous, lasted for less than a day. From Recode:
“I remember the day I came in and told Steve about the Genius Bar idea and he says, ‘That’s so idiotic! It’ll never work!'” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Ron, you might have the right idea, but here’s the big gap: I’ve never met someone who knows technology who knows how to connect with people. They’re all geeks! You can call it the Geek Bar.'”
“And I said, ‘Steve, kids who are in their 20s today grew up in a very different world. They all know technology, and that’s who’s going to work in the store.'”
The next day, Steve called Apple’s general counsel to trademark the phrase “Genius Bar.”
Steve Jobs Pushback
This was a common tactic employed by Steve Jobs. Sometimes his initial pushback was because he genuinely disliked something. But, it was oftentimes a way for him to probe a new idea for weaknesses, or even to test how genuinely committed the idea’s presenter was.
I’ve read numerous examples of this over the years, and it’s one of his more fascinating qualities. It’s also a technique that is entirely dependent on the personality and confidence of the person trying to use it. I, for instance, could never artificially hammer someone over an idea I liked.
I’ve also read many accounts of Steve Jobs championing and taking credit for ideas he initially lambasted as “shit,” his favorite adjective for things he didn’t like. Personally, I imagine those are two sides to the same coin. Anecdotally speaking, I think more of those stories came from Mr. Jobs’s younger days, whereas stories like Ron Johnson’s are from his second coming at Apple.
Ron Johnson left Apple in 2011, before Steve Jobs passed away later that year. Mr. Johnson took over as CEO at retailer JC Penney and tried to remake that company. He received a lot of grief from the company’s board, however, and was terminated before he could finish the makeover.
There’s a lot more in the full hour of interview in Recode Decode, below.