If my time at IDEO has taught me anything, it's that a creative environment need not be toxic, caustic, or unnecessarily stressful. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite: if you want people to do great work together, just treat them like competent, intelligent, well-intentioned human beings, and then diligently cultivate the elements of dignity, joy, and achievement which generate a satisfying inner worklife. People who are feeling beautiful on the inside do beautiful things out in the world.
My fear for all those people reading Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is that they assume that being an asshole and exociating people within an inch of their life is the key to achieving greatness as a leader of creative endeavors. To be sure, there's nothing wrong with being demanding and maintaining the highest standards, but when one considers the totality of what one is trying to create in the world, and not just that thing you're working so hard to ship, there's so much more to reckon with: What's the culture you're creating? How will people relate to their families when they go home in the evening? Will people regret any of the things they had to do to meet the standards you established as being non-negotiable? Ultimately, what's the price to be paid for being inhumane along the way? Does the end ever justify the means?
This past November I very fortunate to spend time with Chris Bangle during his visit to Stanford. I deeply admire the work Chris led at BMW and FIAT; I'm fortunate to drive one of his cars and I spend a lot of spare cycles oggling other ones I see on the street. They're gorgeous, passionate sculptures, and you can't help but feel the strong point of view driving their designs.
He gave a helluva great talk about designing for difference, which you can see in the video below. We talked through myriad topics in our Q&A session after this presentation, but related to the themes I mention above, I'd like to point you to the response Chris gave to my final question, "Speaking about design, where do you want to go?". Chris stood up and said something very profound, starting with an Italian saying he's heard from the farmers in his village:
The fox is pretty because the fox has a pretty tail.
You can hear all of our exchange starting at around the one hour two minute mark. Please listen to all of his statement from that point on -- it's an elegant riposte to the idea that one must be brutal to create things which are beautiful:
We create things which are beautiful by making the process of creation beautiful for everyone involved. The fox is pretty because the fox has a pretty tail.