May 23, 2012


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Steve Jobs: Business Leader. Genius. Asshole?

steve jobs by walter isaacson, photo by albert watson

There is probably no single brand I identify with more than the Apple brand. Apple products have had a massive impact on my life. I’ve probably spent upwards of $20,000 over the last 20 years on mac related software and hardware. It has been worth every penny.

I came into college right at the moment they integrated the Mac into the graphic design program. I have never practiced design without the computer. That may seem obvious to anyone under 30, but my life and chosen profession were dramatically influenced by the advent of the personal computer.

Steve Jobs had an awful lot to do with that.

I find it amusing how much Apple and Jobs are revered now by everyone. Over the years, while I was using macs and was an advocate for the “mac way of doing things” I would get grief from quite a few people: “Those products are so overpriced.” “Good luck finding software for that thing.” “4% market share of the personal computer market? What a joke!”

But now, because they are worth 500 Billion dollars. All of a sudden, they are geniuses. Jobs is the messiah. I never thought he was the messiah and was never one to watch the keynotes or immediately buy the latest product and upgrade my OS, sight unseen. I just loved the products they made. They were(and are) beautifully crafted. They allowed me to be more creative. They were designed. And I put them to use.

Sadly, Jobs has passed on. Way too young, but the mark he has left on the world can’t be denied. How he did it all is worth exploring. That is how I came to his biography, written by Walter Isaacson. It came out late last year and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. It’s dense and multifaceted. Appropriate for the subject matter. Personally, the humanity of the story is what affected me the most and that’s what I’m going to talk about.

Steve Jobs: Business Leader
Leadership is something I like to talk about. It’s a rare commodity and it’s mystified way too much. There are many different effective ways to lead. What fascinated me most about Jobs was his willingness to take risks in his ventures. He often put his money, reputation and the very survival of his business on the line. He wasn’t interested in making safe bets. He ended up becoming a business leader because he ultimately proved out that you can take risks and build products that may alienate one audience in order to delight another, yet still make a profit.

Steve Jobs: Genius
Who gets credit for what is a tricky conversation. Where an idea came from is sometimes relative. Did Jobs concept and design all the products that came out of Apple? Of course not. He worked with a ton of talented and brilliant people who contributed to the development of the company and its products. The genius of Jobs was the clarity of vision he possessed. The genius of Jobs was his ability to get people to produce work that was better than they ever believed they could do. The genius of Jobs was his ability to understand how technology and humanity converged and the faith that his instincts were right in the process of creation. In today’s decision-by-committee world, that is an increasingly rare view. His genius was hard to define, but proved out in the results.

Steve Jobs: Asshole?
A lot has been made of Jobs’ temperamental nature. The book has a multitude of accounts where he openly clashed with friends, family, colleagues and competitors. While he didn’t seem to be one who was motivated by the accumulation of wealth, he was fiercely competitive in nature—although I doubt he would admit it. Some of the decisions and interactions relayed in the book paint a picture of someone who could be callous and vindictive, but also sentimental and passionate. I think that very drive that allowed him to lead people to create world changing products also allowed him to wound people and cause strife.

One thing you cannot debate is his love for the products he helped create. His customers loved those products as well, and indirectly, they loved him because of it. In the end, isn’t that why we create anything? The act of creation is an act of love. My life has absolutely been improved because of the work of Steve Jobs.

For that I’ll always be grateful.

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You can buy Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson here.
Photo credit: Albert Watson

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