Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Wisdom from Steve Jobs: Create a Reality Distortion Field!

Back in 2006 when Apple was developing the iPhone, Steve Jobs decided that while the original plan was for the iPhone to have a plastic screen, like the iPod, it would feel much more elegant and substantive if the screen was glass.  He set about finding a glass that would be strong and resistant to scratches. This led to a meeting with Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning Glass.

Jobs described the type of glass required and Weeks indicated they had developed such a glass, called gorilla glass, back in the 1960’s, but there was no demand so Corning quit making it.  After realizing just how scratch resistant it really was, Jobs decided to use it on the iPhone, and said he needed a large amount of the glass within 6 months.  Weeks said that was not possible, since no Corning factory was making the glass currently, and none were equipped to make it.   Jobs stunned Weeks by saying “Don’t be afraid. You can do it.  Get your mind around it.  I know you can do it.”

Jobs would simply not give up, and amazingly, Weeks and Corning did it.  At Apple, Steve Jobs was known for making the impossible happen.  It was Bud Tribble of the original Apple Macintosh team who lifted the phrase “reality distortion field” from Star Wars to describe Jobs’ propensity to ask for the impossible and stubbornly stick to that goal.  The people around him did whatever it took to make it happen because it was exciting and people understood the big impact which would be generated by making it come true. 

Stepping back, management gurus agree that when a seemingly unrealistic goal is authentic, i.e., would clearly have a big impact, a leader can usually get the troops charged up to pursue it.  Importantly, the leader must be willing and anxious to make sure the following actions are acceptable and encouraged.  In fact, it is these actions that create the “reality distortion field” that enables success:

1.) Remove organizational barriers – When people are working on critical, time-sensitive, “big” challenges, you can’t allow any kind of organizational drag to hold things up. 

2.) Ignore procedural, status quo practices – Mundane rules, operational practices, and procedures need to be put aside. 

3.) Accept the risk inherent with speed – Urgency creates an environment where risk is necessary.  Decisions will need to be made with less certainty.

4.) Focus on learning, not blame – Risk-taking will create mistakes, which should be viewed not as a cause for blame, but as an opportunity to learn and improve.

In summary, when there are big opportunities, don’t shy away for all the usual mundane reasons, create a reality distortion field!  

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