In case you haven’t heard, Steve Jobs passed away last week.
The praise has been pouring in. And deservedly so. He was a genius. A man that made a tremendous impact on the world. During the week, I probably read thirty or forty blogs and columns about his life and accomplishments. I even wrote alittle homage to him myself in the Huffington Post. But I wasn’t learning as much about him as I had hoped. Sure, I learned about his story, his rise with Apple, the “wilderness years,” his triumphant return, the iProducts. But I wasn’t learning much about Steve Jobs the person. The boss.
That is until I read this great piece from Ryan Tate. And I really began to learn something about Steve Jobs. Jobs wasn’t successful just because he was creative, brilliant and hardworking. There are a lot of creative, brilliant and hardworking people running technology businesses. Jobs had an extra little something going on that further separated him from his peers: He was a jerk. Good for him.
I am not creative or brilliant. I work hard. But I like my vacations, my time watching my kids play sports, the odd nap on a Sunday afternoon too. I don’t think I’m anywhere near as hard a worker as Jobs was. And I’m not a jerk like Jobs was. Which is the biggest reason why I’m just a moderately successful business guy, and not a super billionaire. That’s because being creative and hard working isn’t that uncommon. Being a jerk is.
Tate says that Jobs exercised censorship and authoritarianism. To put anything on an Appledevice you needed Apple’s permission. “Apple’s devices have connected us to a world full of information,” he writes. “But they don’t permit a full expression of ideas. Indeed the people Apple supposedly serves – the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers – have been particularly put out by Jobs’ lockdown.”
Jobs wasn’t about to let anyone use his products for activities that would negatively reflect on his company. He knew the risks of giving up control. He knew that people would accuse him of restricting free expression. He didn’t care. He was a jerk. My products are misused all the time. I have clients turning off internal controls, resetting security and converting contact management databases into inventory systems because it’s cheaper than buying a true inventory system. Because I’m not a jerk I say nothing. I just take the money. And in just about every case, these same clients have turned into non-clients. Because they inevitably ran into security and operational issues that turned their investment into a loss. And blamed me. I’ll never be as brilliant as Steve Jobs. But if I were to exercise a little more control over how our products are used (in other words: be a jerk more often) I may be a tad more successful.
“Inside Apple,” Tate continues, “there is a culture of fear and control around communication: Apple’s “Worldwide Loyalty Team” specializes in hunting down leakers, confiscating mobile phones and searching computers. In the creepiest example of Apple’s fascist tendencies, two of Apple’s private security agents searched the home of a San Francisco man and threatened him and his family with immigration trouble as part of a scramble for a missing iPhone prototype.” Wow, the Apple Gestapo. I love that too.
Jobs was all about control. He was a jerk about what and when information was disclosed. He attacked the press when they said bad things about his products. His lawyers ruthlessly went after reporters who disclosed proprietary information. Why? Because successful business leaders, particularly in the technology world, don’t like surprises. They determine and drive the discussion around their products and services. They know that the world is full of haters and copycats. To give a product or service, especially a new product or service, its fair chance you have to make sure it’s introduced to the market the way YOU want the market to see it. To exercise this kind of control over your fate, you have to be a jerk. Jobs was like the Gestapo…for the good of his company, his employees, his shareholders, his partners.
Oh, and for all of you spending your weekends “occupying” America against corporate greed and outsourcing of jobs to other countries you might want to consider this the next time you tweet each other: your beloved iPhone was likely made in China. And in an Apple factory that, according to Tate “regularly employed young teenagers and people below the legal work age of 16” who worked “grueling hours.” So besides the camera you’re using that was manufactured by Panasonic or the makeup you’re wearing that was made by Procter & Gamble (or any of the other products shown in this picture of your friends and protestors) your purchase of that iPhone from Apple contributed to the exact problems that you’re now rallying against. And your icon, the esteemed Jobs, oversaw this. Gee, what a jerk.
Was this wrong? If Apple broke laws then of course it was wrong. But I’m not going to fault Jobs for outsourcing work to other countries where production is cheaper. Some may call him a jerk for doing that. Some, like those “occupiers” would demand that he use Americans to make his products. But Job didn’t care. Like I mentioned before, his allegiance was to his customers, his employees, and his shareholders. As a businessman he would do whatever he needed to do to keep costs at a minimum. Long live the jerk.
In his personal life, Jobs was no angel. According to Tate he “regularly belittled people, swore at them, and pressured them until they reached their breaking point. In the pursuit of greatness he cast aside politeness and empathy. He verbal abuse never stopped.” Sounds like a real jerk, doesn’t he? I wish I could be more like that.
Because I don’t have that kind of self confidence, that kind of leadership. I’m not so convinced that my way is the right way that I’m prepared to go to the mat like Jobs did so frequently. Clearly, he didn’t suffer fools very well. And the world is full of many, many fools and too few real geniuses. If Jobs didn’t behave that way would he have achieved so much? Would we all have benefited from his creations? Too many business owners, like me, coddle our people too much and avoid confrontations. We’re not being leaders. We want people to like us. Those that have the confidence to be jerks, like Jobs, are the ones that give themselves more opportunities to succeed. Of course there’s a limit to this behavior. But in the end, the markets appreciate results. And nice guys often do finish last.
One final thing about Jobs’ jerkiness: he’s accused of being uncharitable. “He has no public record of giving to charity,” writes Tate, despite accumulating $7 billion in wealth. “After closing Apple’s philanthropic programs in 1997 he never reinstated them, despite the company’s gusher of profits.” I can’t stand it when clients ask me to sponsor them in races or contribute to their charity golf outings. I usually do. But it annoys me.
For all I know, Steve Jobs left his entire fortune to charity. But I admire that during his life he was a jerk about charitable giving. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t philanthropic. He was. Dan Pallotta explainsexplains why: “What’s important is how we use our time on this earth, not how conspicuously we give our money away. What’s important is the energy and courage we are willing to expend reversing entropy, battling cynicism, suffering and challenging mediocre minds, staring down those who would trample our dreams, taking a stand for magic, and advancing the potential of the human race.” I agree with that.
Steve Jobs was definitely a jerk. Good for him. I’ll never be a genius like him. But, for the benefit of my technology business (and all those who rely on it), I should be more of a jerk too.