Search results for 'steve jobs'

The Two Sides of Steve Jobs

30 Nov

All four of my readers will remember my post-mortem post on Steve Jobs. This post is further reflection on his life and accomplishments.

I’ve been reading the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and have some information to report back:

Steve Jobs was a genius and a nut.

He was emotionally immature, interpersonally inept, and an unbelievable hypocrite. When he didn’t get what he wanted in professional settings, he cried to manipulate people.  When he needed to encourage staff to take ideas to the next level, he tended to berate and belittle them instead. And despite the fact that he was himself given up for adoption by his mother and abandoned by his father, he refused to accept his own fatherhood for his oldest child until he was pretty much forced to after positive DNA testing.

This biography is not a tell-all, but Jobs wanted people to know the truth so wanted no censoring of content. I give him points for that. Isaacson conducted interviews with Jobs as well as hundreds of people Jobs knew–people with all kinds of opinions about what made him tick. It’s fascinating to read these insights into his process.

One of the things most intriguing to me is that, like George Harrison, Jobs sought spiritual enlightenment. I was surprised to find that he went to India to study Eastern philosophy and was a student of Buddhism. But unlike Harrison, Jobs did not seem to absorb any of the spiritual tenets around respect for other sentient beings. He used more of an end justifies the means type of approach to management,  putting people who worked for him on temporary pedestals to bolster their confidence one moment, while the very next telling them that what they created was “shit.” Apparently, he said this a lot. Jobs’ main takeaway from Buddhism, in particular Zen, seemed to be not the spirituality but the influence his  product design aesthetic: spartan, clean lines, and no fuss.

Another angle that Isaacson explores is the famous Jobs “reality distortion field.” If Steve Jobs believe that something was possible–even the impossible–he so strongly and passionately integrated this belief with his own worldview that for him and everyone around him it became reality. What that says to me is that he was so able to suspend his own disbelief that he had the power to persuade others to bend reality in very interesting ways…ways that beat deadlines and over-delivered on features.

All of this is interesting because it seems that the combination of these characteristics gave him the ability to manipulate his own and others’ thinking beyond the expected, giving us revolutionary products that are truly a pleasure to use. I’ve been wondering if all of the bad karma that Jobs created along the way of driving this technology to fruition outweighs the benefits of the products, and how they’ve impacted our lives in such positive ways. I think that you could argue it either way, and the answer is very subjective.

I’ve worked for people that I did not like at all interpersonally but whom I respected professionally, and who drove my thinking to the next level even though I despised their methods. I hated them for being so mean, but I still loved them for being geniuses. I’m a better professional for having worked with them, despite the pain. I think Steve Jobs left a slew of people behind with this very impression. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t bad. He was something in between: imperfect and himself.

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Steve Jobs: Making Technology Cool

6 Oct

Last school year, my 10-year-old son did a science fair project involving some research on Steve Jobs. Last night when I told him that Jobs had died, he cried.

How powerful that a man’s influence can be felt by so many generations. Even some of my older friends who just started using computers are really only doing so because of Jobs. Face it: He’s the guy that made computers useful and useable for regular people.

And he took us beyond the geekly image of a loser with big glasses tinkering with a mainframe to a culture that wants technology because it’s a mark of being cool. Being without technology is uncool. No young person today is without a mobile device.

The coolness comes from a combination of three things, all created or enabled in some way because of Jobs:

  1. It helps us to get things done, in particular things involving other people. Jobs saw the social power of technology, to connect us and help us to communicate in a multitude of ways. Paradoxically, Jobsian technology helps us to be more human.
  2. It feels good. I have not moved up to the 4-series iPhone yet, largely because I have so gotten used to the feel of the rounded edges and smooth casing of my 3-series. Technology has got to be something that we enjoy touching, and that gives us that tactile response that feels good. Case in point: The swoop sound when I send an email. Again, like the feeling of popping bubble paper or eating cherries or ghosts when playing Pac-Man, using Jobsian technology just plain feels good.
  3. I read something recently that a market study on Apple users described their visceral reaction to seeing the Apple icon as religious in nature. Same kind of response as seeing a cross or a spiritual icon. An interesting finding…that the Jobsian technology has created a devotion far deeper than brand dedication.

This clip is making the rounds, and you may have already seen it, but if not I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch. I’d read the speech a couple of years ago but didn’t see the video. And how ironic, that the man who created the technology most of us are using to view this, is the same man whose life that it helps us to celebrate.

“Stay hungry, and stay foolish.” Indeed.

Smart Leadership is Social

5 Dec

Image: Ian Kahn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I continue to read the Steve Jobs biography, two things are clear to me:

  1. Steve Jobs was a genius. He could envision the market demand for the substance of what his developers could build, and his product marketing skills delivered it with style.
  2. Steve Jobs was able to motivate his team intellectually, but often his social deficiencies worked against greater accomplishment. Bullying and berating his people had to create an organizational black hole of missed opportunities.

In my own experiences and through what I hear from others, in particular those of us in the creative class of workers, having a socially intelligent leader is critical. Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis describe the concept in this Harvard Business Review post.

Socially intelligent leadership can leverage the intellectual capacity of teams, and enhance that capacity by upping everyone’s game through social connectivity. This means that each team member is given permission to perform to their fullest potential–and they are also encouraged to work WITH one another to push that potential into the unexpected. This type of innovative teamwork delivers disruptive innovation. When teams are led by someone with social intelligence, they create products and services that take their craft to the next level.

Let me give a couple of examples.

1. This first example comes from state government–shocking, I know. While working at the Ohio Department of Education, I was on a team assigned with creating a  report card to inform parents how their child’s school was doing on key performance indicators.

This was a new concept and required the team to tap into design, copywriting, and technology that would deliver thousands of these reports–each unique to a school–in such a way that parents would care to read them. Our leader helped us to imagine what the reports could be, and she created a team environment where we were free to put our all into delivering the reports we envisioned. She was not dictatorial. She asked more questions than she answered. She lifted us up when we made mistakes and thought we couldn’t do it. And she celebrated our successes with us along the way and when we did deliver the reports, on budget and on time.

2. My second example is from my current workplace, a nonprofit focused on educational transformation for schools. There’s a lot of innovation going on here. My role is a combination of client-facing and internal strategy support. The creative in me enjoys having the time and space to roll up my sleeves and “make stuff” (which for me means writing and doing information design) that is useful to internal and external clients.

My leader in this setting is an ace at managing demands and matching the best people to excel in meeting those needs. There’s been more than one situation where my big ideas have gotten the best of me. I have a tendency to “think big” and not consider the time commitment I’ll need to make to get to “big.” She knows this tendency of mine and encourages me to be vocal in asking for more resources to help reach the goal, rather than killing myself in the process of getting there by pulling all-nighters. What I appreciate about her approach is that she gives me the room to exercise my creativity, and she offers me the support I need to get there. In short, she saves me from myself.

Socially intelligent leaders ask questions, clear the path so that their team members can achieve, and help them find ways to pace themselves to sustain their creativity (and not burn it out) over time.