Never Take ‘No’ For an Answer
For those of us who remember the 1980s, Steve Jobs was the man who invented the Macintosh; the first commercially successful computer with a graphic interface. It amazed consumers and experts alike when it was launched on the market in 1984. Younger people know him as the creator of the iPhone.
Steve Jobs’ company, Apple, had already made him a millionaire by the time he was 24. After he pulled off the most successful IPO in the history of finance in December 1980, his fortune was estimated at $217.5 million. At the time of his death in 2011, his wealth was estimated at around $8.3 billion. He was one of the richest men in the United States, and for many the marketing genius of our time. In the year before he died, Apple was the third-most valuable company in the world. He had created a company that, even after his death, remains extremely successful. In 2018, Apple was the first trillion-dollar company in history, making it the world’s most valuable company.
As we have already seen in the last chapter, Steve Jobs always possessed a quality that many other successful personalities share: He was a difficult, polarizing character whom others either worshipped or detested. And he would never have been half as successful if he hadn’t always refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.
In the spring of 1974, 18-year-old Steve Jobs applied for a job with Atari, which had just launched a popular video game. The company was advertising for people who wanted to “have fun and make money.” The idea appealed to Jobs. One day, the personnel manager told Al Alcorn, the head of the engineering department: “We’ve got this weird guy here. He says he won’t leave until we hire him. We either call the cops or hire him.”
At the time, Jobs was a hippie who experimented with drugs and, together with a few other technology freaks, had just invented an illegal device for tricking the phone company and using their phone lines for free. Needless to say, he did not strike them as a very promising candidate for a job. Alcorn remembers him as being “dressed in rags basically, hippie stuff. An 18-year-old drop-out of Reed College. I don’t know why I hired him, except that there was some spark. I really saw the spark in that man, some inner energy, an attitude that he was going to get it done.” Alcorn’s colleague asked what on Earth was he supposed to do with Jobs. “He has b.o., he’s different, a goddamn hippie.” They eventually agreed to let Jobs work nights so his presence wouldn’t offend anybody.
About two years later, in April 1976, Jobs and his friend Steve Wozniak founded Apple. The owner of a computer shop ordered 50 units of their first prototype, which they had dubbed Apple I, for $500 each. It was a huge success for the two young entrepreneurs, but the question of how to finance the necessary investments remained unsolved. The two friends had formed their company with $1,000, which they had raised by selling a Volkswagen van and an electronic calculator. Jobs’ various attempts to find somebody willing to put up the money remained unsuccessful until he finally met Bob Newton, the manager of an electronics company who promised to contact the owner of the computer shop and ask for confirmation of the $25,000 order.
Jobs’ biographers Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon comment: “Anyone less determined would have said, ‘Okay, I’ll call back in a few days,’ and left. Steve refused to leave until Newton made the call.” Newton eventually agreed to a credit line of up to $20,000.
Shortly after launching Apple I’s successor, the Apple II, Jobs saw an advertising campaign for Intel that he thought was great. Immediately obsessed by the idea of launching a similar campaign for his new computer, he contacted Intel’s marketing department and was told that their campaign had been created by the Regis McKenna agency. Jobs phoned the director and was referred to the project manager in charge of new clients instead, who informed him in no uncertain terms that a new company such as Apple would never be able to afford Regis McKenna’s services.
Jobs wouldn’t accept this. He kept calling every day until the project manager agreed to come to the garage that served as the ‘headquarters’ of Apple and to take a look at the computer Jobs had been waxing lyrically about on the phone. “As I was driving over to the garage, I was thinking, ‘Holy Christ, this guy is going to be something else. What’s the least amount of time I can spend with this clown without being rude and then get back to something more profitable?’”
He was impressed by Jobs’ persistence – but not impressed enough to actually accept the job. Most people would have given up at this point and decided to look for another agency – after all, there were tens of thousands of them in the United States. But Jobs had his heart set on hiring the same agency that had created the Intel campaign he admired so much. He still refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. He started calling the director’s office three to four times a day until McKenna’s secretary was so fed up with answering his calls she talked her boss into speaking to Jobs himself. Jobs succeeded in arranging a meeting with McKenna.
But even when Jobs and Wozniak met face to face with the director of the advertising agency, he would not be swayed. “When McKenna proved reluctant,” Jobs’ biographers write, “Jobs pulled his now-customary tactic of refusing to leave the office until McKenna consented to handle the account. Steve was so persuasive that Regis McKenna, in a decision which would turn out to be hugely beneficial for all of them, agreed to accept Apple Computer as a client.”
There was just one problem: how was Jobs supposed to pay for an advert in Playboy, as McKenna suggested since the target group was predominantly male? McKenna suggested that he talk to Don Valentine, who had formed a venture capital company in the early 1970s which specialized in funding promising new start-ups in the electronics industry.
Valentine liked Jobs and his Apple computer but he wouldn’t invest in the company unless Apple took an experienced marketing professional on board. Jobs asked him to recommend a few people, which Valentine refused to do. Once again, Jobs didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He kept calling Valentine three or four times a day until the entrepreneur finally gave him some names, among them Mike Markkula. On January 3, 1977, Wozniak and Jobs met Markkula at his home to sign the documents that turned Apple into a joint-stock company. Each of them owned a share of 30% and, in the early days, Markkula was also Apple’s largest investor.
Once again, Jobs’ stubbornness had carried the day and got him what he wanted. His staff frequently found him hard to cope with. When Apple’s next big project, the Macintosh, was in the planning phase, he showed up at a meeting with a phone directory, which he tossed on the table: “That’s how big the Macintosh can be. Nothing any bigger will make it. Consumers won’t stand for it if it’s any larger.”
His employees looked at the phone directory in utter shock. Jobs was asking the impossible. The book was half the size of the smallest computer ever built at the time. The electronic parts, the technicians agreed, would never fit into a casing of that size. It was obvious that Jobs knew nothing about electronics, they thought, or he would never have made such a ridiculous demand. “Steve wasn’t someone who took no for an answer,” his biographers state drily. He insisted: his staff would have to find a way to build a computer that size.
The Macintosh was supposed to hit the market on January 24, 1984. Apple had launched a huge advertising campaign to that effect, which was covered by every television channel in America. But on January 8, his software designers told him they couldn’t possible meet the deadline. They only had another week in which to solve the remaining technical problems – it was impossible, they told him firmly. Jobs had to understand that the product launch must be postponed!
Jobs did no such thing. Hearing that something was ‘impossible’ made him aggressive. But for once he surprised his team by not throwing a tantrum. Instead, he explained calmly that they were great and that everybody in the company was counting on them. They had to meet the deadline because the alternative, delivering a demo version, really was impossible. He said that he had faith in his team, he knew they could do it. Then he put the phone down. The software designers were speechless. They had already given it their all and were about ready to break down from exhaustion. But there was nothing else for it. They got up, returned to their workstations, and at the very last moment, in the early hours just before dawn on January 16, they did the ‘impossible,’ which Jobs had asked them to do.
But people who keep pulling off the ‘impossible’ against all odds can easily let success go to their heads. They start thinking they are infallible and always right about everything. This is what happened to Steve Jobs, who had been right so many times. He had predicted that he would sell 70,000 units of the Macintosh within the first 100 days. Everybody thought he was crazy. But once again, he was right. Shortly after, the tide started to turn. IBM launched a PC that had far more useful features and functions than the Macintosh and also came at a lower price. Apple’s sales declined rapidly. Most of the 200,000 units they had optimistically produced had to be sold off at a huge loss. There were internecine fights within the company and many blamed the problems on Jobs, whose style of leadership had not endeared him to his staff.
His fellow executives ganged up against him, forcing Jobs, the founder of the company, to move out of his office and into a small building across the street, which Jobs nicknamed ‘Siberia.’ Shortly after, John Sculley, whom Apple had poached from Pepsi, declared: “There is no role for Steve Jobs in the operations of this company, either now or in the future.” Jobs felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. He sold all of his shares, which were worth a lot less now than they had been when Apple first went public, and formed a new company, which he called NeXT. He also bought the Pixar computer animation company from film producer George Lucas, who urgently needed money to pay for his divorce.
At first, both companies were anything but successful. Month after month, year after year they operated at huge losses. The computers they produced didn’t sell and Jobs finally decided to get rid of Pixar’s hardware branch and focus exclusively on computer graphics. He eventually succeeded in coming to an agreement with the Disney corporation, which commissioned Pixar to produce several animated films. Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner felt that his company was increasingly being outdone by producers like James Cameron, who used computer animation to great effect in films such as the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Terminator.
Pixar was commissioned to produce Toy Story, for which Disney invested $100 million in advertising – three times the film’s production budget. Toy Story became a runaway box office success, and an excellent calling card for Pixar’s IPO in December 1995.
In previous years, the company had incurred huge losses. This was a few years before investors started buying into a good ‘story’ of a technology start-up even though the numbers weren’t right. But the success of Toy Story generated a lot of good press for Pixar and inspired the imagination, which is a key factor in stock market success, as Jobs had predicted correctly.
Jobs wanted to float his shares at an opening price of $22, which his advisors and investment bankers thought was far too high. They recommended an opening price of $12–$14 instead. At $22, they warned him, there was a high risk that the shares wouldn’t sell. Yet again, Jobs refused to take ‘no’ for an answer, and insisted on an opening price of $22.
When trading started, all Pixar executives were glued to their screens. After half an hour, the shares traded at $49. By the end of the day, the price had dropped slightly but, at $39, it was still a lot higher than expected. Steve Jobs was a billionaire – at least for that one moment. The company, which had been a complete failure for many years, started producing one box-office success after another, setting new standards for the computer animation industry. With a turnover of $2.5 billion, it was soon the most successful Hollywood studio in history. In late January 2006, Disney announced that it was going to take over Pixar for $7.4 billion. Steve Jobs joined the Disney board of directors. With a share of 50.1% in Pixar, he was Disney’s largest individual shareholder.
Ten years earlier, he had achieved a comeback with Apple. In 1996, he had sold his company NeXT to Apple for $402 million. The following year, he joined the board of directors and was soon promoted to interim CEO. By launching new products like the iPhone or the iPad, he turned the company’s fortunes around and brought it back from the brink of bankruptcy to become one of the most successful corporations worldwide.
Remember how it all started: with one man’s refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer. You don’t need to be a Steve Jobs to draw some important lessons from his story. Most of us give up too easily when confronted with rejection and with a ‘no’ which appears to be final. The next time somebody tells you ‘no,’ ask yourself: “Wait a moment – why should I accept this as a final answer? Let’s see if there’s a way of turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’” This strategy doesn’t just work for Steve Jobs – it works for you and me, too.
If somebody turns you down, try first of all to put yourself in their place and to disregard your own interests completely for a moment. This approach has frequently served me well in contract negotiations. I might say: “Let me sit where you’re sitting for a moment and look at things from your point of view.” And then I will do so. Once you have understood the whole picture and taken on board the other party’s interests, you will often be able to negotiate successfully.
Dealing with people who always say ‘yes’ can be far more treacherous than dealing with those who always say ‘no.’ What do I mean by this? I used to sell life insurance, because I thought that would be the best way to learn about sales. My colleague and I went from door to door, ‘cold-calling’ on people. Were people waiting for us to ring their doorbells? Of course not. The trick was to carry on regardless of every time you had a door slammed in your face.
Let me tell you about the man who said ‘yes.’ He had been kind enough to listen to me extol the benefits of life insurance for almost 45 minutes, nodding his approval and interrupting me at intervals with phrases such as: “That sounds good!” Confident that I had made a sale, I started filling in the application form for an insurance policy. My interlocutor, who had acted so polite and interested up to that point, asked me curtly: “What are you doing?” Self-consciously, I explained that I was just entering some information, just in case ... He wouldn’t even let me finish my sentence. “That’s completely out of the question for me in any case.”
Since then, I have learned that from a salesperson’s point of view, people who say ‘yes’ to everything are much more difficult to handle than those who raise objections and express their concerns. They say ‘yes’ in the hope of avoiding confrontation and getting rid of the salesperson as soon as possible. They keep their thoughts to themselves (“let him talk, with any luck I’ll soon be rid of him”), not giving their interlocutor any opportunity to refute their arguments and objections. Experience has taught me that they have to be drawn out of their shells before they will tell you what they really think and why they have reservations.
I have often seen similar situations in my work as a business networking consultant. One important part of my work is facilitating talks between executives from real estate companies who I believe have shared interests. These talks frequently result in takeover bids, joint ventures and deals worth tens of millions of euros. In the initial round of talks, participants mostly swap pleasantries and emphasize the interests they have in common. That’s fine as far as it goes, but experience has taught me that you get a lot further a lot faster the sooner you address the disagreements and objections which might stand in the way of collaborating on a project.
If each party keeps their reservations to themselves, there is never an opportunity to discuss them. That’s why, in those talks, it is frequently up to me to say: “I am glad that you have found you have so much in common. That’s exactly what I had expected and hoped for. But now I would like to ask you to state the three most important arguments against a collaboration.” There are times when I need to be patient and keep silent until somebody speaks up. Frequently, nobody ‘dares’ to mention more than one objection, which more often than not isn’t even their main concern. So, I insist: “Is there anything else which from your point of view might speak against this project?” I will not let it go until I am satisfied that all potential objections have been raised.
Good salespeople have to learn to deal with a non-committal ‘yes’ as well as with a resolute and decisive ‘no,’ which seems to forestall any objection and to leave no room for discussion. Frank Bettger, who was for a time the most successful insurance salesman in the United States, shares his strategies in How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling.
If somebody told him ‘no,’ he would usually simply change the subject of the conversation. This is how he did it. One day, acting on an acquaintance’s recommendation, he went to see the director of a large construction company. He was in the habit of having mutual acquaintances write letters of introduction for him. When he showed the letter to the director, his prospective client replied: “If it’s insurance you want to talk to me about, I’m not interested. I just bought more insurance about a month ago.” He sounded as if he had made up his mind once and for all and Bettger would just be wasting his breath on him. Instead, he asked: “Mr. Allen, how did you ever happen to get started in the construction business?” He then listened to the other’s life story for three hours – and a few weeks later the company director and some of his staff bought insurance policies worth $225,000 from Bettger, which was a whole lot of money at the time.
“How did you get started?” was one of Bettger’s favorite conversational gambits, which he used to break the ice and try a different tack. Successful entrepreneurs in particular enjoy telling the story of their humble beginnings and of the difficulties they have had to overcome. Bettger won sympathies by showing an interest and proving himself a good listener. He also picked up a lot of information about his client-to-be which was instrumental to selling insurance cover. “The most important secret of salesmanship is to find out what the other guy wants, then help him find the best way to get it,” Bettger advises.
Here are some simple rules that will help you change a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’:
- Instead of prematurely accepting ‘no’ as a final answer, consider it an interim stage of your negotiations.
- Try to understand the other person’s point of view. Sit in their chair and look at the issue at hand from their perspective. Look for creative solutions to make both parties’ interests coincide. Use your imagination!
- Give the other person an alternative, so that they can change their mind without losing face. Nobody wants to lose out in a deal and it is up to you to make the other person feel that they have won.
- In negotiating, the magic word is ‘fair.’ If you really are trying to come to a fair solution for both parties, this little word can work wonders. Propose a compromise, then point out: “Neither of us is going to be 100% happy, that’s the nature of a compromise. But I think this solution is fair to both parties.”
- Ask the other person to understand your own situation and your attitude towards it. You sat in their chair, now ask them to sit in yours and see things from your point of view. Help the other person by highlighting emotional as well as rational aspects of your position and your perspective.
- Many people make the mistake of approaching a negotiation too ‘openly,’ without having set a clearly defined goal in their own mind. Before entering into negotiation, you have to be entirely sure of what you want and you have to be sure of how far you are willing to compromise. The other person has to realize that you mean every single word you say.
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