Steve Jobs told employees a short story when they were promoted to vice president at Apple. Jobs would tell the VP that if the garbage in his office was not being emptied, Jobs would naturally demand an explanation from the janitor. “Well, the lock on the door was changed,” the janitor could reasonably respond. “And I couldn’t get a key.”
The janitor’s response is reasonable. It’s an understandable excuse. The janitor can’t do his job without a key. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses.
“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs told his newly-minted VPs. “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.”
“In other words,” Jobs continued, “when the employee becomes a vice president, he or she must vacate all excuses for failure. A vice president is responsible for any mistakes that happen, and it doesn’t matter what you say.”
It is a story from John Rossman’s upcoming book titled Think Like Amazon. Steve Jobs had a simple theory about what separates great leaders from all the rest. If it is your job to lead, and a lot depends on you, there is no excuse for failure.
In the autumn of 1989 my life had gone off the rails after I was forced me to leave a student’s dormitory. I moved back to my parents’ home to gather some courage.
At the time I promised myself to lead an insignificant life. That seemed something even a complete failure like me should be capable of.
But perhaps I am a bigger failure than I imagined as may even not be able make good that promise.
There wasn’t much to laugh for me except for a few episodes of Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau aired on German television. My parents lived near the German border so it was possible to watch German television.
Despite being completely inept Clouseau always solved the mystery. Guided by a few hunches and some vague clues that only made sense in his mind he always ignored the most obvious explanation of the facts.
The German dubbing made him appear even more clumsy.
How can a bumbling clown like Clouseau be correct while the competent fail? The answer is that Jacques Clouseau is a fictional character in a story. The plot is always that Clouseau is right in the end, by accident.
The world we live in could be fiction too.
And I could be right.
The highest level of failure is failing to fail. Success is inevitable, no matter how hard you try.