Harsh truth time: If success were simple or easy, everyone would be doing it.

Read a lot of posts and articles these days and it sounds like all you need to do to get your life in order is breathe deeply, let go of the past, show gratitude, make your bed, etc.

But while healthy habits like these can improve your life, if actually achieving success were as simple as many experts make out, we'd all be doing so well that self-help gurus would have long ago run out of customers. Real world success involves facing down serious discomfort and struggling with harsh tradeoffs.

It's a fact that Guy Kawasaki knows well. How did he learn? By being one of the first Apple employees working under Steve Jobs in the 1980s. Now a top investor, Kawasaki took to question-and-answer site Quora to explain what it was like having Jobs as a boss, and the wisdom he took away from the experience. (Hat top to Quartz for the pointer.)

"The Steve Jobs IQ test"

In short, the experience sounds pretty bruising. This will comes as no surprise to those who have read about Jobs's legendarily abrasive leadership style, but in case you're not familiar with how hard he could be on his employees, Kawasaki shares this anecdote:

One day Steve Jobs showed up in my cubicle with a man that I didn't know. He didn't bother to introduce him; instead he asked, "What do you think of a company called Knoware?"

I told him that the company's products were mediocre, boring, and simplistic--nothing that was strategic for Macintosh. The company didn't matter to us. After my diatribe, he said to me, "I want you to meet the CEO of Knoware, Archie McGill."

Thank you Steve.

While that was probably far from the most comfortable few minutes of Kawasaki's (or McGill's) life, Kawasaki notes that the incredibly awkward experience at least raised Jobs's assessment of his abilities.

"I passed the Steve Jobs's IQ test," writes Kawasaki. "If I had said nice things about crappy software, Steve would have concluded that I was clueless, and that was a career-limiting or ending move."

The incredible value of extreme honesty

More importantly though, the incident illustrates for Kawasaki the most essential truth he learned working for Jobs: Radical honesty can be deeply unpleasant, which is why so many of us shy away from it, but it's also the foundation of great success.

Kawasaki explains that his years working with Jobs taught him that extreme honesty is valuable in three ways. First, "telling the truth is a test of your character and intelligence. You need strength to tell the truth and intelligence to recognize what is true," he writes.

Second, Knoware's CEO might have needed a cold beer or two after work that day, but despite the initial sting, "people yearn for the truth," Kawasaki asserts. "Telling people that their product is good just to be positive doesn't help them improve it."

And finally, and quite sensibly, "there's only one truth, so it's easier to be consistent if you're honest. If you are dishonest, you have to keep track of what you said."

All in all, Kawasaki's post is a bracing reminder that success doesn't often come from doing what feels nice, comfortable, or natural. Frequently, it requires a steely-eyed commitment to principle and the ability to keep values like radical honesty not only in mind but actually front and center guiding your actions. That's generally not easy at all.

What do you think of Jobs's stunt with Kawasaki and McGill?

Published on: Mar 6, 2017