Anal is perfectionism. Anal is caring about details.
This anal perfectionism is what drove people like Steve Jobs at Apple Computer. Jobs was known for a compulsion for making industrial design as obvious and user-friendly as possible. He will be remembered for wanting to make his products as simple as possible; he once said “you have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential[i].”
Jobs and his acolytes might not warm to the description of “anal.” But I don’t think Jobs would’ve minded it too much. Decoding his statement, he is conducting two actions: understanding and editing. His erstwhile competitors, companies like Sony, Dell and Microsoft must have design and engineering teams doing the same things as Apple was doing. Surely, they must have had smart people working in similar war rooms, pondering, tweaking, revising and running through and adapting processes. Does Sony just think in terms of just adding stuff to solve a problem, whereby more is more?
After all, everyone is just trying to make the best product. As engineers, it seems the most important issue comes down to what is essential. And the difference between Jobs, and all the competititors he has thwarted over the years, is not so much a difference of kind, rather than a difference of degree. Jobs just focused on the essential, in a militant, cultish way. He was uncompromising. He was relentless, famously fighting back against his top lieutenants who told him he was crazy to consider spending extra money making the insides of his laptops themselves beautiful (he gave on this one- though not without a huge fight). He was micromanaging; he was abrasive, often abrupt. His products were sculptures that all humanity could relate to and derive value from; people seemed to have no memory of the last product cycle as they went out to replace their devices, on schedule, season after season. The image of the company was lofty, in fact with Apple advertisements featuring the likes of Gandhi and the slogan “Think (sic) Different,” you could argue that they were projecting a brand of virtue. That is: restraint and human-centeredness. Such were the ideas front and center of every campaign.
But Jobs, well, he was anal. And maybe, that was his distinguishing trait as a leader.
[i] Isaacson, Walter. "How Steve Jobs' Love of Simplicity Fueled A Design Revolution." Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2012. Web. 22 Aug. 2014.