Breakthrough inventions happen when we solve technical contradictions without performance trade-offs. For example, you need to cut a material fast but without building up heat. The solution: cut with a jet of cold, high-pressure water.

Steve Jobs in action

Steve Jobs’s contradiction was running the world’s largest start-up: how to meld public-company size and scale with start-up innovation and nimbleness?

Jobs’s breakthrough came from combining individual accountability with a corporate culture of transparency and collaboration. As in a start-up, leaders had clear accountability for product and functional areas. Rather than form committees, Jobs had leaders meet collectively for three hours every week to update each other and share ideas. He then met with smaller teams to brainstorm and solve problems.

Clear accountability and transparency minimized the need for formal supervision. The freedom to make decisions also motivated employees to stay with the firm and give their utmost.

This culture of transparency and collaboration filtered down the company. Jobs believed that for Apple to succeed, the best ideas, not hierarchy, had to run the company.

Astute listeners will also hear in Jobs’s approach the principles of business ethics: individual accountability, transparency, and alignment of employee interests with the goals of the company.

So, to those willing to listen, Jobs also told us there is no contradiction or trade-off between long-term success and business ethics. My new book shows how to make this work in the real world.

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