Steve Jobs was a jerk. By now, everyone knows and accepts that as the truth, but that doesn’t make him any less loved or hated by millions of people around the world.
On 5 October this year, Apple released a new, short film and a personal statement from the Apple co-founder’s family to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. At the time of writing, the video has had more than 1.4 million views on YouTube within five days of release.
Although it is a decade since Jobs departed this world, his presence is still strongly felt, and his shadow continues to fall over the giant tech’s management team, whatever they do. For millions of iPhone and Apple fans, Steve Jobs is Apple and Apple is Steve Jobs. For tech nerds and gadget buffs, his name is an endorsement of the perfect blend of beauty, creativity, efficiency, and productivity.
In an effort to launch one innovation after another, Jobs managed to speak and act like a jerk to his teams and colleagues, thinking that his harsh words and putdowns would burst open their creative minds and maximize their potential. While there is no excuse to be a jerk, his behavior reflected his massive inner strength. The level of faith in his vision and determination to make something happen was almost unmatched.
With his larger-than-life character, you can find his stories simply by searching Google. Clearly, it was his futuristic vision of how technology can transcend civilization and time to create a massive impact, as we can witness today. But it wasn’t easy when many of his ideas sounded utterly impractical and outlandish, and his demands almost tyrannical.
This conclusion did not come from just a few people, but everyone who knew him. Jobs was ruthless in his dealings with others. The tech wizard was notorious for his low tolerance to “stupidity,” often berating his employees and losing his temper when faced with disagreement or doubts.
David Coursey, a columnist for Forbes, said in his 2011 article, “Steve Jobs Was a Jerk, You Shouldn’t Be”, recounting that he was once yelled at by Jobs because he did not like the first version of iPhoto enough. But most people forgave him and still listened to him because he was a real genius who could deliver and exceed expectations.
One explanation for his behavior was that Jobs believed consumers do not generally know what they want until they see it, making him a firm believer in his ideas on product design. For him, function isn’t everything; it must also give a smooth, pleasant experience. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said. Basically, he did not think that ‘the customer is always right’.
Born in 1955, Jobs grew up with a distinctive character. He had trouble fitting in, resisted authority, and was suspended a few times for misbehavior. It was not because he had a developmental problem – just the opposite! He was bored with traditional classes and ended up spending a lot of time with his father and neighbors, many of them engineers and mechanics. His teachers wanted him to skip two years in grade school to junior high school, but his parents refused to do that as they wanted their boy to have a full childhood. Instead, they allowed him to skip the 5th grade and transferred him to a new school.
Despite being seen as a loner since elementary school and a target of bullying, Jobs bloomed intellectually, and was talented in both science and art at high school. A classmate said he was “kind of a brain and kind of a hippie…but didn’t fit into either group. He was smart enough to be a nerd, but wasn’t nerdy, and was too intellectual for the hippies who just wanted to spend all their time ‘getting wasted.’
It was also the artist in him that helped him retain his perspective of how the world should be in the technology age. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1994, Jobs was at the lowest points in his career and had been fired from Apple, but said, “yes” when asked if he still believed in the limitless potential of technology. “But it’s not a faith in technology, it’s faith in people,” he said, adding that ‘Tools are just tools.”
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart — and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them,” he said. “Tools are just tools. They either work, or they don’t work.”
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 after more than a decade, he made his philosophy clear from the start, focusing on people over products and profits. At that time, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy, so the management decided to ask Jobs to return. Although his new company was growing rapidly he agreed.
When he returned, the first thing he did was to issue an ultimatum, demand a complete revamp, and fire the entire executive board, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography. “Stop the train, this isn’t going to work,” Jobs told board member Edgar Woolard. “This company is in a shambles, and I don’t have time to wet-nurse the board. . So I need all of you to resign or else I’m going to resign and not come back on Monday.”
One of his most famous and inspiring speeches was the one he made at the 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. To Jobs, his successes and failures were about “connecting the dots.”
“It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college,” said the man who dropped out of Reed College after just one semester. He was studying liberal arts but had no money to support himself. That decision resulted in him venturing fully into the tech world, co-founding Apple, and getting fired from his own company before making a comeback to become a legend.
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” he said. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me up to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
What Jobs taught us is how important determination and self-faith are in fulfilling a dream. Of course, there are better ways to be excellent at what you do without hurting others. So we must not be like him when it comes to treating others.
Call him whatever you want. Without his adamant push and the challenges he threw at people around him, it could have taken decades for the world to embrace his revolutionary vision, and that makes him one of the most loved and hated people in the world.