Oswald Letter

Here’s to the Crazy Ones

I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It’s an interesting read because Jobs was a fascinating character. Jobs was a polarizing figure, revered by many and hated by others. But regardless of how anyone might feel about him, there’s no denying the man was a creative genius.

Shortly after Jobs’ death I wrote the following: “Steve Jobs has been called the greatest American innovator since Thomas Edison. Like Edison, his contributions have changed the lives of people worldwide and will continue to do so for generations to come. Now that’s a legacy!”

Innovator, creative genius, visionary, entrepreneur — whatever the label, it’s clear that Steve Jobs was a change agent in our world. So what set him apart? What made Jobs so different from others? I think the following story illustrates what made Steve Jobs so special.

In 1997, Jobs returned to Apple, the company he had founded, after being gone for a decade. The company was really struggling and the prospects of bankruptcy were real. Apple’s sales had fallen by more than 30 percent during the previous two years.

When Jobs returned as interim CEO, he knew he had to shake things up. From day one, Apple had appealed to a niche set of customers that Jobs believed he could clearly define. They were, in Jobs’ own words, “the creative spirits in this world, and they’re out to change the world.” Apple had lost touch with its core customers and Jobs set out to win them back. He did this by launching an ad campaign many of you might be familiar with. It was called, “Think Different.”

Jobs loved the campaign because it was simple but communicated exactly what he believed Apple and his customers shared in common. Apple executives, led by Jobs and the company’s advertising agency, went about looking for the right song to accompany the ad but couldn’t find anything that satisfied them. So instead they decided to write the words to accompany the ad and came up with this:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

It captured exactly who Apple thought its audience is, who they thought they were, and, I suspect, who Jobs thought he was. It’s a powerful message and it personalized the “Think Different” theme that the company wanted to communicate.

So my question to you as a manager is this, “Who are your crazy ones?” Look for those who think differently. Find those misfits, rebels, and troublemakers and figure out how you can best use the talents they have. So often, as managers, we want everyone to conform. We want our people to fall into line and not make waves. But often the good ones challenge the status quo and in doing so ruffle a few feathers. Your job is to figure out who they are and then provide an opportunity for them to flourish.

They might be hard to manage at times — maybe all of the time. They may be disrespectful or unorthodox, but they can and will perform. It’s your job to figure out how to best use their unique talents to the benefit of the organization. Don’t dismiss them for being different, embrace it!

Here’s to the crazy ones!