Steve Jobs was a connoisseur of music and his favorites were Bob Dylan and The Beatles. The irony is that both Dylan and The Beatles were among several artists whom it was difficult to include in iTunes. In the recent Steve Jobs biography, knowing that he would die soon, Jobs even discussed how important it was for him to secure the rights to The Beatles catalog. These may be somewhat trivial things to the everyday person. It may also be of little consequence to those who aren’t Apple fans. But there were many layers to Steve Jobs that have impacted our lives, our views on leadership, interaction with technology and how we watch movies.
I recently finished the massive tome that is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Even if you could care less about the man, Steve Jobs was a force of change. He (and Steve Wozniak) made the personal computer for the masses. And if it weren’t for the Microsoft and Apple rivalry, computing would never have catapulted us into the computer age. What I found most interesting was Steve Jobs’s management style. There was little attempt in the book to hide the quirks of his genius and it would be virtually impossible not to see similarities in genius behavior. From a very early age Steve was headstrong and acted at his own whim. He would show up unbathed and barefoot to meetings and was constantly berating his employees and others.
As a MEd graduate whose major was in Human Resource Development I was mesmerizingly drawn to his charisma and determination. As many say, Steve’s Reality Distortion Field. According to a member of the original Apple Computers team, Andy Hertzfeld defines this Field as “Steve Jobs’s ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything, using a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement, and persistence.” According to Wikipedia, “although the subject of criticism, Jobs’s so-called reality distortion field was also recognized as creating a sense that the impossible was possible.”
And so I ask, does the end justify the means? I think of my own management and leadership style and often compare and contrast them to others. It’s hard not to look upon and consider Steve Jobs’s style. While no one wants to be ridiculed, belittled and pushed to the edge, I’m a bit like Jobs, a demanding perfectionist. I often wonder if my skill-set is best suited for employee management given my general lack of patience. A lot can be said for individuals of this like mind. They are often very driven, skilled, efficient innovative and yes, even over-bearing and impatient. However, these somewhat odd individuals with their social oddities are among the collective genius that drives innovation and creativity.
I remember in my early job experiences I was employed by a man who had retired from the USMC and who apparently already came from a family of hot-tempered individuals. Given his very stern style of management, (like Jobs he was not afraid of telling an employee that they were stupid) I wonder if I would be much different than I am now in my views of leadership and management. I remember how important it was for me to please him, to exceed his expectations. I quite often did. Being exposed to polar opposite ends of management styles, what I have learned is that there is no one way that works the best. There are times where I need to coddled while others where I need to be stressed.
Steve Jobs, the very man who was a bit Machiavellian, was also lauded for his words of inspiration and his contributions to technology and media. He had many mantras including: don’t wait; control everything you can; own your mistakes; surround yourself with brilliance; trust your instincts; and take risks. That’s to say, as I’ve now discovered, it really is the journey of life that makes the difference. Whether you’re a tyrant or the kindest person, success and fulfillment can be achieved in any number of ways. Despite his tactics I have a profound respect for Steve Jobs and the many things he contributed to the world. What would life be like if there were no iTunes, iPhone, iPod and iPad? Love it or hate it this imperfect man changed the course of technological history. Additionally, can you imagine if Pixar was no more or failed to exist at all? He acquired the company in its infancy and poured his own money in it to save it from the brink and to succeed. He cultivated it. Under his leadership from Toy Story to Toy Story 3 and everything in between, his pet project, Pixar has accomplished graphical feats that completely changed animation. He helped to change a number of industries.
I suppose the long and short of it is, as I adored Steve Jobs for his many accomplishments and contributions to the world, he was human. His story was a means to an end. He left behind an indelible history not only in technology and media but also in leadership and management. Sometimes it does take a radically passionate perfectionist in order to get things done.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 3/28/12 issue of The Union-Recorder.