How Steve Jobs Misled a Room Full of Tech Media and Changed the World

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Have you ever purposely misled a customer? The public? The media? Steve Jobs did. And he did it to change the world.

The story goes back to 2007, when Apple was first introducing the iPhone. Jobs knew that he had a product that would have an enormous impact on the way humans use technology — and also have an enormous impact on his company’s future profits.

Unfortunately, Jobs had a big problem: the iPhone didn’t really exist. Yet in January of that year, he planned to demo the iPhone to an audience at the company’s Macworld conference that included customers, partners, tech media…and the world. All he had to show them was a flawed, unfinished model and some big ideas. So what did Jobs do? He decided to mislead his audience.

According to Shawn Knight, who wrote about this story in Techspot a few years after Jobs’ death, the iPhone at the time was “riddled with bugs.” What kind of bugs?

“For example,” Knight wrote, “the phone could play a section of audio or video but not an entire clip without crashing. If you sent an email then surfed the web, it would work. Do that step in reverse and it’s likely to crash.”

Undeterred, Jobs demanded a workaround that would fool the audience. His development team created a “golden path” which was basically a step by step, scripted procedure of features that he could show in a specific order so that the phone wouldn’t malfunction. Jobs took the further step of demanding that his programmers rig the iPhone so that it always showed five bars of signal strength to demonstrate its wireless capability, even though the actual signal was less than reliable.

But that wasn’t all. The iPhone developers still hadn’t fixed major issues with the device’s memory management which frequently caused a restart. The workaround was for Jobs to keep a few iPhones on stage and switch from one to another when memory became low.

In the end, after five days of constant practicing, the 90-minute demonstration went off without a hitch and Apple would soon make history. It was “practically a miracle,” according to one Apple engineer at the time.

Sure, there was no way that Jobs was fully certain that all the features he promised on the iPhone would actually work in the real world. But he plowed ahead anyway with his fake demonstration. Why? Because he believed he was doing the right thing.

Do you sometimes mislead your customers? Of course you do. Hopefully you’re doing it for the right reasons too.

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