The myth of Steve Jobs was that he was a singular genius who was the ultimate micromanager, driving his team to the edge of breakdown to achieve great things: the Macintosh, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad. I’ve been fascinated by Jobs and Apple every since buying my first Apple II in 1980. But Jobs was truly one of a kind, He wasn’t a brilliant engineer or scientist. He was a brilliant synthesizer and designer. But do great products require hard driving visionaries? As Guy Kawasaki, the Mac’s evangelist, has said that working for Jobs was the greatest experience of his life, and the worst.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was also a perfectionist who built breakthrough products admired throughout the world, but according to The Wall Street Journal article In Chasing Perfection, Ferruccio Lamborghini Took the Fast Lane The story of the revolutionary Countach by Sam Walker offers a counterpoint to the Steve Jobs model of leadership.
Lamborghini’s approach to building the legendary Countach was neither the IBM model which Bill Gates derided as “masses of asses” nor Jobs pirate team of dedicated engineers working 100 hour weeks. Lamborghini simply rounded up three precocious 30-somethings, gave them a clean sheet, ordered them to build the maximum car and left them alone. That hardly seems like a formula for building a car that changed the course of automotive history. According to the Journal, Lamborghini’s brilliance lay in creating the ideal conditions for something magical to happen.
His handpicked team of three was mostly let alone, Lamborghini would occasionally check in and insisted the car enter an endurance race and return to the factory with the engine still running before he would agree to put the car into production.
This all seems quite magical, and frankly virtually unbelievable. But the Journal refers to a study by the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman, who studied many kinds of effective teams, found that once the actual work began, team leaders had limited impact. What mattered most were the intelligent preparations the leader made beforehand. Aside from building a capable factory and a brilliant engine his main contribution to the success of the Countach seems to have been identifying three brilliant talents. And from what I’ve read of Jobs his ability to spot talent was legendary: Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith and Andy Herzfeld of the original Macintosh team, and going back to the origin days, of course Apple co-founder, engineering genius Steve Wozniak.