Persuade skeptics with ‘Imagine This’

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

In 1985, Steve Jobs left the company he co-founded, Apple, and launched a computer firm called NeXT. He set ambitious goals at NeXT to serve the higher education market, but that meant he needed to recruit a top-notch technical team to his new company.

A brilliant salesman, Jobs (1955-2011) knew as head of a start-up that he couldn’t match or exceed the salary demands of the best technical minds that he sought to hire. So in the absence of dangling a competitive compensation package, he tried a different strategy.

In his efforts to woo Steve Mayer, a video engineer who had co-founded Atari Corp., Jobs pulled out all the stops. (He knew and admired Mayer because they had briefly worked together at Atari before Jobs helped launch Apple.)

Rather than host a typical job interview, Jobs told a captivating story using what Mayer later described as “the Imagine process.” Jobs began each sentence with the word “Imagine.” His storytelling proved hard to resist.

Jobs started by telling Mayer, “Imagine yourself reading a magazine, and it has an intriguing ad for a new computer.”

He invited Mayer to imagine calling the computer maker to find out more about the product, visiting the computer firm’s headquarters and getting a private tour of its facility. Finally, he urged Mayer to imagine the moment when the firm unveiled its mysterious computer to him.

By the end of the conversation, Jobs and Mayer were batting around ideas about the machine’s features. The “Imagine This” exercise excited Mayer and led him to visualize a new kind of computer and how people would use it.

Recalling this discussion years later, Mayer marveled at how Jobs “makes you share the vision of how the product will be used.” It was great theater and it left a lasting impression on Mayer.

The incident underscores how Jobs viewed the hiring process. He wanted to recruit what he called “A-people” — the absolute best. “As soon as you hire a B, they start bringing in Bs and Cs,” Jobs liked to say.

He also liked to assess a candidate’s ability to take criticism in stride. Jobs sought thick-skinned individuals who cared above all about making a superior product.

— Adapted from The Steve Jobs Way, Jay Elliot and William Simon, Vanguard Press.

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