The most important lesson from the life of Steve Jobs (why we need nutters, pirates and positive deviants to succeed)

The most important lesson from the life of Steve Jobs for those of us in professional services and consulting worlds is not what you’d expect.  Yet for me, it is what I’ll always remember Jobs for, more than anything else. Here it is.

University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann wrote: “The challenge of leadership is not to fit in. It’s to have combined passion with purpose, and the most inspiring and successful leaders, I think, don’t fit in.”

Steve Jobs did not fit in. His legacy endorses my recent guest post for Firebrand Talent’s blog entitled:” Why We Need Nutters, Pirates, and Positive Deviants To Succeed.”

As a tribute to Steve Jobs- and with apologies to dual Possums/Firebrand Talent subscribers, here is that story. It’s my favourite.

The Power of Black Sheep

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble makers. The round pegs in the square holes.” So wrote Steve Jobs. He was a rebel who took risks and did it differently.

If you want your firm to beat the competition and be the place the best clients and people want to be- then make sure you’re hiring black sheep. And sometimes be a black sheep yourself.

Too often we hire clones- hard working, ambitious, disciplined, compliant, well educated, often trained and proven in a competitive firm, appropriately groomed, etc. You know the story. Just look around you. Look at yourself perhaps.

To really succeed in a fast changing world where rules of old are being broken every day- as a business or as an executive striving for the most vibrant of career- we have to resist the usual and be brave.

David Ogilvy’s Confession

“Our business needs massive transfusions of talent. And talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among non-conformists, dissenters and rebels.” So wrote David Ogilvy in “Confessions of An Advertising Man.”


Tom Peters puts it another way in encouraging us to ‘do it differently.’ The story he tells goes something like this. “Most people who want a career on the high seas join the navy. White uniforms, nice caps, salute the flag….” Don’t!! If you want a career on the high seas, be a pirate instead!” I LOVE THIS IDEA. Be a pirate! A friendly pirate, where the skull and crossbones are still in the company colours, but a pirate none the less. Taking risks, living on the edge a little sometimes, flaunting rules on occasion, laughing loudly as the wind lashes your face and your pursuers drift into the distance behind you. I want to hire people like this.


Miles Young, the global CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, told us to Hire more nutters.” “Is a nutter the same as a pirate?” I asked him over a cocktail one night at the Zeta Bar in Sydney. “No,” he said. “They’re different. But they serve the same purpose. Nutters think totally differently to us. They come at things from a very different perspective. Pirates are on the same wavelength but do it their way and with their rules.”

Crazy People

Positive deviants‘ is another way I have heard this rare type described. Tony Blair in his autobiography describes them as ‘crazy people.“In my experience there are two types of crazy people: those who are just crazy, and therefore dangerous; and those whose craziness lends them creativity, strength and ingenuity and verve.”

The Valuable Lesson

Whether a non-conformist, dissenter, rebel, pirate, nutter, positive deviant, a Blair ‘crazy’ or a Jobs ‘misfit or trouble maker’,  make sure your team has a solid sprinkling of them. They will fuel your ideas, thinking, momentum and competitive edge, and quite simply, make your business a winner. And make sure you have a dose of this magic yourself on occasion. It will take you to positive places in your career you never thought you’d get to.

>View of a video of Chris retelling this post

>Here’s to the crazy ones…

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8 Responses to The most important lesson from the life of Steve Jobs (why we need nutters, pirates and positive deviants to succeed)

  1. Melanie October 19, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The beauty of a team is the power of the deviant that strays from the norm and brings a fresh approach. Otherwise we find ourselves spiralling in the same circles that keep the path of “safety” alive.

    I think the question is, how are we supporting these Nutters, Pirates, and Positive Deviants?

    Rather than placing the black hat on them because of their image or unusual methods – i think it is about taking a step back and really thinking – how can their idea change the way we do things in a positive way.

    Great post Chris…

  2. Richard Carr October 19, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Nice article Chris. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you hire people from the same gene pool you inevitably end up with a horrendous ‘mutation’. Its the same principle that applied to interbreeding amongst the monarchies in olden times.
    Better to keep the gene pool fresh I reckon.

    • Chris Savage October 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Quite right Richard.

  3. Anne Miles October 19, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    :o) Love this post – it gives me permission to keep being my own version of crazy!

    Like you said, Chris, you don’t have to be the wrong kind of pirate at the same time if you are driven by the right values.

    • Chris Savage October 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks Anne – agree. Pirates can be friendly!

  4. Clair October 19, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    I needed to read that today! Thank you


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