Leadership

Steve Jobs proves even the smartest executives need help making decisions

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David Paul Morris | Getty Images

Just over 40 years after Steve Jobs co-founded Apple, the life of the late tech visionary continues to inspire many. From leadership lessons to life hacks, Jobs has influenced rising millionaires, billionaires and the most established executives alike.

Jobs is revered for his successful years of leading Apple and the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, the company's most successful product. But he wasn't always so confident the world-changing item would be a wise investment to develop for the company.

In "The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone," author and Motherboard senior editor Brian Merchant uncovers the details of how the smartphone came into existence and how even one of the smartest, most powerful executives needed smart people to help him land at the right decision. The book will be released on June 20 in celebration of the iPhone's 10th anniversary this month.

"Jobs was a powerful source of inspiration, a fierce curator of good ideas and rejector of bad ones, and a savvy and potent negotiator," Merchant writes to CNBC in an email. "But the iPhone began as an experimental project undertaken without his knowledge, became an official project at the prodding of his executive staff and was engineered into being by a team of brilliant, unfathomably hard-working programmers and hardware experts."

Jobs had faith in a wide variety of talent, "from new blood to veteran hands," Merchant says. He notes that Jobs gave Scott Forstall — who would go on to create the iPhone operating system (iOS) — the ability to recruit anyone from the existing Apple staff for the new phone project.

Merchant says that Jobs was publicly resistant to the idea of Apple making a phone because he, like many other Apple engineers and executives, thought cell phones "sucked."

"'The problem with a phone,' Steve Jobs said in 2005, 'is that we're not very good going through orifices to get to the end users.' By orifices, he meant carriers like Verizon and AT&T, which had final say over which phones could access their networks," Merchant writes in his book.

Merchant says his interviews reveal that Jobs also wasn't initially convinced that the emerging smartphone category was going to be a wide market — he reportedly wondered if they'd be permanently relegated to the "pocket protector" crowd.

"Which, again, was a fair assessment; early smartphones were either indeed kind of geeky-looking or aimed at the email-obsessed business crowd," Merchant says.

Ultimately, Jobs trusted his team with the technical aspects of the experimental project, but "needed to see an interface that might be intuitive and exciting to lay-users before he'd be sold on the idea that Apple should get into the phone market," Merchant says.

Merchant reports that the the iPhone's revolutionary multi-touch display was "born out of experimentation deep in the bowels of Apple, hidden in the beginning even from Jobs" and they only showed him a demo once they felt it was good enough.

"The issue was never with faith in his staff, and while there were certainly technical concerns — the embryo of the iPhone was basically a prototyped research project for a long, long time — it was with whether entering the market at all was worth the risk," he says. "When it became clear enough that smartphones would become competitors to the iPod, it added some pressure and forced his hand a bit."

A senior iPhone engineer, Andy Grignon, is quoted in Merchant's book saying, "The exec team was trying to convince Steve that building a phone was a great idea for Apple. He didn't really see the path to success."

Then Apple vice president Michael Bell reportedly sent Jobs a late-night email on Nov. 7, 2004, explaining why they really should make the phone. Jobs called Bell immediately, and they argued for hours until Jobs finally relented, Merchant writes.

"Okay, I think we should go do it," Jobs said.

Grignon would later become the first person to receive a call from an iPhone. Aside from the project's exclusive team, Jobs kept the phone secret from the rest of the company. It was all about trust for the Apple co-founder, from the phone's conceptualization in California to its production overseas.

"There would be no iPhone if it weren't for the work of people on every layer here — not to mention those who manufacture the device itself in sprawling megafactories in China," Merchant says, "but that, I suppose, is for another story."

See more:

How to write a great cold email, from someone who got a reply from Steve Jobs