Tag Archives: Apple

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.