Steve Jobs was famous for a lot of things, not the least of which was being tough, opinionated and sometimes difficult to work with. Like most creative people, he had lots of ideas about lots of things and usually thought his ideas were best. Unlike many creative people, he had also attained the skills and power and developed the thick skin necessary to push big, radical ideas ahead even when the marketplace, consensus or “common knowledge” said, “not prudent, won’t work, a cell phone with no keyboard, wtf?, etc.” One of the more overlooked characteristics that made Jobs such a successful leader is that he was willing and able to change his mind – even if it meant pivoting 180° at the last minute to pull a product or demand the kind of last-minute change that most companies would never risk. A recent Stanford Business story about Ron Johnson, Apple’s former Senior Vice President of Retail Operations, points to one of those “Jobs” moments from which we life science marketers can learn. It goes like this:

One day, before Apple opened its first store in May 2001, Johnson was riding with Steve Jobs to a weekly planning meeting about the store Johnson was charged with designing. Johnson told his boss, “Steve, I’ve been thinking. I think the store’s organized all wrong. We’ve organized it like a retail store around products, but if Apple’s going to organize around activities like music and movies, well, the store should be organized around music, and movies, and things you do,’” Johnson recalls. “And he looked at me and he said, ‘Do you know how big a change that is? I don’t have time to redesign the store.’ Then 10 minutes later, Jobs walked into the meeting and said, “Well, Ron thinks our store is all wrong. And he’s right, so I’m going to leave now. And Ron, you work with the team and design the store.” That lesson of doing things well “carried through to so many things I’ve done,” recalls Johnson. “It’s not about speed to market. It’s really about doing your level best.”

Egos aside, Jobs wanted to create the best possible user-experience for customers, and in those 10 minutes between the car conversation with Johnson and his walk into the planning meeting, he boldly changed his mind and reshaped today’s Apple Stores. Among the many insights from this story, two stand out. #1: Strong leaders benefit from listening to their people (and trusting them to get the work done and handle the details once the decision is made); and #2: Innovation demands that we challenge conventional “wisdom” and the status quo (and sometimes a volatile leader). Like Johnson said, “it’s really about doing your level best.”