Why Steve Jobs was a Misunderstood Product Manager

There’s an intense scene in the upcoming movie “Steve Jobs.” The scene shows Steve Wozniak asking Steve Jobs a question.

“What do you do? You’re not an engineer, you’re not a programmer, you can’t design anything. What do you actually do?”

-Steve Wozniak in the upcoming movie Steve Jobs

Woz didn’t understand the value that Steve Jobs was bringing to the table. Woz saw value in building things. He didn’t see Steve Jobs build anything.

But Steve did build things.

Steve Jobs built a vision.

The vision was a world where everyone had access to the best computers. He also built stories around that vision. These stories got people excited. Some of these people bought his product. Some of these people joined him and helped build the vision. Woz was one of these people.

Great product managers have vision. They also have the skills to built stories around that vision. When engineers are thinking about how to build a better horse carriage, product managers challenge them to build a car. Steve Jobs challenged. He reminded them why they were building in the first place. They go back to the drawing board. Magic happens.

Danny Boyle is the director of “Steve Jobs.” He pondered on Woz’s question to Steve Jobs and gave a thoughtful response.

“You could say that about movie directors, virtually all of us. I don’t write, I can’t act, I can’t fix a camera – I can’t do anything really, but you do what he did, which is you synthesize the people who can towards a vision”

-Danny Boyle, director of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs did that. He synthesized the best specialists on earth. He asked the specialist to help him build his vision. He didn’t care about the “how.” He cared about the “what” and the “why.” That’s what great product managers do. Steve Jobs was a great product manager.

4 years ago Monday, Steve Jobs passed away. That Monday was the same Monday I left Apple. I remember reading Tim Cook’s email announcing his passing. I was in my car. The email was delivered to my iPhone. The same iPhone that Steve Jobs built. It felt surreal.

The world learned a lot from him.

Apple learned a lot from him.

I learned a lot from him.

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