Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Steve Jobs: brilliant, bizarre, not nice

Andy sent me the link to this Jobs profile. Brilliant yes. Bizarre, more than a bit. Nice, not so much. (BTW, abdominal CTs are not a routine procedure.)
The trouble with Steve - Mar. 4, 2008

... During a routine abdominal scan, doctors had discovered a tumor growing in his pancreas. While a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is often tantamount to a swiftly executed death sentence, a biopsy revealed that Jobs had a rare - and treatable - form of the disease. If the tumor were surgically removed, Jobs' prognosis would be promising: The vast majority of those who underwent the operation survived at least ten years.

Yet to the horror of the tiny circle of intimates in whom he'd confided, Jobs was considering not having the surgery at all. A Buddhist and vegetarian, the Apple CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine. Jobs decided to employ alternative methods to treat his pancreatic cancer, hoping to avoid the operation through a special diet...

...For nine months Jobs pursued this approach...

In the end, Jobs had the surgery, on Saturday, July 31, 2004, at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, near his home...

...Jobs' personal abuses are also legend: He parks his Mercedes in handicapped spaces, periodically reduces subordinates to tears, and fires employees in angry tantrums...

... He has listed himself as "co-inventor" on 103 separate Apple patents, everything from the user interface for the iPod to the support system for the glass staircase used in Apple's dazzling retail stores...

... Jobs' break-the-rules attitude extends to refusing to put a license plate on his Mercedes. "It's a little game I play," he explained to Fortune in 2001...

... Often Jobs would suddenly "flip," taking an idea that he'd mocked (maybe your idea) and embracing it passionately - and as his own - without ever acknowledging that his view had changed. "He has this ability to change his mind and completely forget his old opinion about something," says a former close colleague who asked not to be named. "It's weird. He can say, 'I love white; white is the best.' And then three months later say, 'Black is the best; white is not the best.' He doesn't live with his mistake. It evaporates." Jobs would rationalize it all by simply explaining, "We're doing what's right today."...

...In 2006, after the Wall Street Journal ran its Pulitzer Prize-winning series about backdated stock options, Apple (which hadn't been named in the coverage) scrambled to assess whether it had a problem. The company appointed a special board committee to investigate, which concluded that it did. The company discovered "irregularities" with 6,428 grants between 1997 and 2001 - roughly one in six that Apple issued during that period. (New disclosure requirements after that time caused backdating to dry up.) The company also found no instances of backdating before Jobs took over as CEO...
The article strongly implies Jobs knowingly backdated stock options -- then made two execs fall guys when he got caught. His family life has been reasonably tortured as well, though the article is mostly revisiting old sins in that domain.

I'd love to see him spend a week in prison the next time he parks his unlicensed Mercedes in a handicapped spot. A little bit of justice would be nice ...

The comparison to Gates is inevitable. Gates has a reputation of a similarly abusive temperament, but his charity and sense of duty are both respectable. There's nothing to respect about Steve Jobs -- except perhaps his passion for excellence.

3/5/2008: An interview in Fortune provides yet another perspective. It's not a contradictory perspective, but it illustrates how contradictory, inconsistent, complex, and brilliant, Jobs is.

2 comments:

alanbooker said...

The Jobs article was very well written. I understand your point of view regarding jobs and his less than traditional style.

I have met and worked with a few great individuals in my life and must say that each and every one of them have demonstrated difficult to deal with temperaments but capacities that dwarf most other individuals abilities.

I am always ready to celebrate the waves made by those who are less than uniform with the trust that just those waves bring oxygen to a process.

Those of us who are less able to bring fire to our lives and work, fire that burns away the inconsequential, fire that transforms both personal biography and the surrounding world, are understandably rattled out of our complacency and mediocrity and forced to experience ourselves.

For those who are at the receiving end of tirades or overblown ego’s, it offers opportunity for deep personal growth, opportunity to truly face ones own biographical and professional realties and the gift/possibility of being able to have a deep impact upon the person who one is confronted with.

“There's nothing to respect about Steve Jobs -- except perhaps his passion for excellence.”

Take any page from history that highlights an individual who has transformed the world, peal back the presenting personality and view the complexity of human biography/destiny as it brings metamorphosis both exoterically and esoterically.

Warm regards, Alan

John Gordon said...

Well said Alan.

It's a bit of a sad truth that the heroes of history were, with very rare exceptions, not particularly nice.

I suspect even Jimmy Carter was not particularly nice as president -- though I suspect he strove to be kinder than his natural inclination.

Picasso, of course, was an absolute monster. He would make Job look like Mother Theresa. (The irony here, of course, is that many people found Mother Theresa to be a bit on the cruel side. From what I've read, she was not saintly by nature.)

As for the historic Christ -- well, were I to meet him, I suspect I'd find a man (or Man) struggling to be nicer than his nature.

Humans are flawed, and "great" (in the historic sense) humans have great flaws.

The truly wise and kind do exist, I think we've all met a few. They tend, by their nature, to stay in the background, and to move the world in unseen ways.