Steve Jobs has been a favorite target of my abuse over the past few years. Besides what I viewed as mindless Apple worship by people who really didn’t understand how to use computers effectively –and I don’t just mean who didn’t understand command line tools, but the legions of Mac users who are simply unaware of the really cool keyboard shortcuts and GUI sugar that make using Macs so enjoyable–he came off as an arrogant, overbearing, egomaniacal manager, a guy who took credit for the good work of lots of other people. I think this view of him, which I’ve come to think is unfair, was skewed by a favorite book of mine, “Revolutions in the Valley”, which chronicles, per the subtitle, “the insanely great story of how the Mac was made”. There are many wonderful, inspiring little anecdotes in this book, and I’ll write more about it some other time. For now, know that the original Mac team was made up of a bunch of brilliant misfits, people with whom it’s easy to relate, and it was sad to read of the bruising of egos and useless internal competition they had to go through. That could have easily made the team less productive were they less talented or more high-strung folk – and even if the team didn’t suffer, certainly made Apple as a company a house divided against itself – so that side of Steve, the side that was a bully, doesn’t come off looking too good.
Which is why when Steve said that getting fired from Apple was ultimately the best thing that could have happened to him, it’s not just so much hyperbole. Nor do I mean that just in terms of Jobs’ personal enrichment as a result of having to leave, to the tune of over $6 billion.
I don’t think that Apple’s current ‘renaissance’ could have been achieved by the brash, arrogant Steve Jobs of the early 1980s. The new Jobs married the ‘reality distortion field’-creating maverick with a more down-to-earth guy who understood who to interact with people more effectively. With the possible exception of Jon Rubenstein, one of the co-inventors of the iPod, Jobs engendered more loyalty and less division on his second run at Apple, and that has made all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, singularity of vision combined with raw talent count for a whole heck of a lot – but it’s important not to underrate Steve Jobs’ humanity: being able to listen to people and to react to them with more respect than mockery by all accounts made for a better Steve.
Many never learn this lesson; we should all strive to.