A-players and A-bombs.

For most things in life, the range between best and average is 30% or so. The best airplane flight, the best meal, they may be 30% better than your average one. What I saw with Woz was somebody who was fifty times better than the average engineer. He could have meetings in his head. The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like that, A players. People said they wouldn’t get along, they’d hate working with each other . But I realized that A players like to work with A players , they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do. You need to have a collaborative hiring process. When we hire someone, even if they’re going to be in marketing, I will have them talk to the design folks and the engineers. My role model was J. Robert Oppenheimer. I read about the type of people he sought for the atom bomb project. I wasn’t nearly as good as he was, but that’s what I aspired to do.

Walter Isaacson (2011). Steve Jobs.

Constant variation.

Most successful big-company innovators I met, whether Chief Innovation Officers, innovation team members or people without an innovation job title but who are tackling a big change project for the first time, have something in common: they respect the organisation they work for, but they don't revere it. As innovators, they want their businesses to do better, but at the same time they are dissatisfied with the status quo. There's a kind of 'love-hate' going on. But too much love and an innovator becomes an ineffective 'yes-man'. Too much hate and he or she ends up an ineffective loner.

It's a delicate balancing act. I describe someone who effectively manages it as a 'Captain One Minute, Pirate the Next'. One minute the innovation leader is the Captain, the passionate man-with-the-plan, standing tall on the bridge of the ship and inspiring us all to go 'this way'. But the next time you meet, the Captain has morphed into a Pirate. This time he or she is down to the boiler room, sleeves rolled up, shipmates gathered around, using all of his or her cunning to shortcut a process, to subvert the system. Now our protagonist is asking really challenging questions: 'What if we did it differently? What if we ripped up the way things are done around here? What if?'

So one minute an innovation leader is stubbornly sticking to the big picture; the next he or she is telling you not to sweat the small stuff. I think this intriguing mix of vision and cunning comes from the fact that successful innovators are fixated by outcomes. They are highly motivated to make change happen - so much so that they're often less bothered about how they get there.