Like almost everyone, I’ve been engrossed with all the stories and articles about Steve Jobs since his death. He is the quintessential entrepreneur who has achieved legendary cult status very few will ever achieve. We all want to know his secret!
However, a few days into the articles and stories I got a nagging feeling. Is anyone else concerned that the deluge of stories about Steve Jobs being an insufferable asshole might spurn a whole new generation of wannabe inventors and business people that act like selfish narcissists – all in the name of genius?
Last night 60 Minutes did a story on Walter Isaacson’s new biography on Jobs. Among other things, Jobs was described as having what family and employees called “magical thinking.” Whenever Jobs said he wanted something done, always within an impossible time frame, through sheer force of will (and verbal abuse), he would get it done. He was known to dress down waitresses, employees, and anyone else he felt didn’t meet his standard of excellence. The word “mean” is used often.
My brother Steven told me a funny story floating around on the internet. Jobs was known to ask employees in the hallway, bathroom, or even the elevator; “what have you done for Apple today?” If he didn’t like the answer, they could be fired on the spot. As the legend goes, he once tried to fire a copy machine repairman who he mistakenly thought was an Apple employee. The man’s answer to his question about what he had personally done for Apple lately; “I recently bought my daughter an iPod.”
I get it. In all my years in advertising, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many talented and successful entrepreneurs, who at times can be insufferable, impatient and downright abusive. I myself have been accused of poor behavior at times, especially in my early days. It happens. Nobody’s perfect. The stress of running a business can be unbelievably overwhelming. Add to that the pressure of keeping people employed and the desire to produce a quality product often under impossible timeframes, and sometimes something’s got to give.
But my point is that role models are incredibly important in business and in life. If you want to emulate Steve Jobs, note his unbelievable vision, his attention to detail, his exceptional design talent, his undying commitment to excellence, and most importantly his ability to hire and keep exceptionally talented and fanatically loyal employees.
We don’t need to celebrate his tendency towards being a jerk. There was an article in the New York Times a few weeks ago titled “Do Happier People Work Harder?” The authors Amable and Krammer cite a few studies to support this theory; “employee disengagement adds up to $300 Billion in lost productivity annually. “ Of course don’t need studies to believe this, because it’s intuitive. We’ve all had jobs; we work harder and produce higher quality work when we care about the company we work for. It’s that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I love Steve Jobs and am a huge fan of his products and his company. He obviously has done something incredible right. I’m inclined to believe that the negative stories about him may be greatly exaggerated. Even if they are not, the genius of Steve Jobs is so incredibly rare, we forgive him.
But for the rest of us mere mortals, we should remember to be nice. As for the idea that Jobs serves as an incredible role model, of course! For instance, I am taking up the practice of asking my employees; “what they have done for the R2C Group lately?”