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Would Steve Jobs make it past HR today?

Innovation is led by disruption and disruption need descriptors, but most HR departments are meant to “weed out” disruptors because in the end they just want people to become cube farm inhabitants.

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Steve Jobs had a great number of gifts but perhaps his greatest gift was being able to look at technology and being able to determine how people need and use technology. He was so demanding that he would often trash projects that were overly complicated and fire people who couldn’t understand his basic philosophy. Would Steve Jobs, if he were a candidate for a job, be able to really make it through HR today at a time when managers are screaming for disruptive people?

There are all kinds of stories about people getting interviews at their dream companies by using innovative resumes but what these articles don’t mention is that these people are exceptions not a standard.

HR managers are looking for people who can fit in and they are very wary of hiring “pirates”. They don’t want people who are going to rock the boat and, more importantly, they don’t want people who will threaten their managers with new thinking. This is one of the reasons why there is so much bad marketing out there and why so many retailers are going under.

What about pirates?

A pirate can function without a bureaucracy. Pirates support one another and support their leader in the accomplishment of a goal. A pirate can stay creative and on task in a difficult or hostile environment. A pirate can act independently and take intelligent risks, but always within the scope of the greater vision and the needs of the greater team.

Pirates are more likely to embrace change and challenge convention. “Being aggressive, egocentric, or antisocial makes it easier to ponder ideas in solitude or challenge convention,” says Dean Keith Simonton, a University of California psychology professor and an expert on creativity. “Meanwhile, resistance to change or a willingness to give up easily can derail new initiatives.” So Steve’s message was: if you’re bright, but you prefer the size and structure and traditions of the navy, go join IBM. If you’re bright and think different and are willing to go for it as part of a special, unified, and unconventional team, become a pirate.”

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Steve looked for the pirate in all his team members. But it wasn’t enough just to be brilliant, and it wasn’t enough just to think different. Steve’s pirates had to have the passion, the drive, and the shared vision to want to delight the customer with a perfect, game-changing produc t. Steve was constantly worried that as Apple grew, it would become like other big companies: tied up in bureaucracy, with a hundred reasons why something couldn’t be done. Pirates with passion would not let this happen. In keeping with this idea, Steve wanted his pirates not only for the product development organizations, but also for routine business functions like accounting and even his administrative assistants.

As Steve told Fortune editor Betsy Morris in 2008: “When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve, or anybody else.”

HR has to change. Recruiters who post open positions on LinkedIn instead of going after pirates are not doing their job unless they are being rewarded for more of the status quo. HR people need to go after someone who authors a provocative post or share articles in their area of interest instead of waiting for people to come to them.

Originally published at on June 11, 2017.

Written by

Marketing contrarian with over 15 years of developing leading edge and award winning digital marketing initiatives.

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