Almost without exception, Steve Jobs’ management style turned into business topics. Dozens of books teaching you how to focus on design, deliver powerful presentations, and think outside the box. Equally without exception, their concepts are seldom executed. Hold on. There is one trait that has actually been copied widely, and it’s without the media’s endorsement: his tyrannical behavior. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even copycat PC makers haven’t paid a tribute as large as the wannabe-Jobs executives who are busy beleaguering their associates.
I have encountered people who identified themselves with Jobs and Apple products and imitated him by hogging all the credit, doing things behind the curtain, and meddling with small decisions. They justify their behavior by saying sometimes you have to be an asshole to do great things. It is a plausible excuse, except that they usually fail to deliver the great— not just good—products.
Where do they fail in imitating Jobs’ awesomeness? Taste. Pushing a product’s quality in terms of industrial design, functionality, and performance is achievable by forcing people to copy what’s already ahead of them. But acquiring a unique flavor is a different affair. It requires having an objective internally, as in Jobs’ case, not externally, as in the imitators’ case.
Steve Jobs’ behavior was ultimately accepted, or even cherished, because he was always right in the end. Contrary to the coarse surface attitude, he had an incredibly sophisticated taste that sensed the right direction—even when he was wrong. Wanna know what people will become, with the attitude but without the taste? This is it, coming right from the company that has been thriving by copying what Apple and Jobs did:
It’s also a scientific reminder that shows what happens when human cloning goes horribly wrong.
Was Steve Jobs an anomaly in the evolution of Homo executive sapiens? I used to think so. He must have been born an asshole with perfect taste, just like some models are gifted with a perfect set of teeth or pelvis. Now I think it’s the other way around: He was a born maestro with a turbulent personality. For him, “taste” wasn’t about creating a winning strategy, as imitators believe and spend insurmountable hours—and money—in business schools to emulate. It was about hearing his inner voice, as Jobs suggested in his famous speech. I believe Jobs simply adopted the best practices to realize his vision, and that included being an asshole.
Ironically, if Jobs’ motivation was to rule others, he would have catered to them more. You can remain a bully only so far as people (prey) show up each day. As far as I have heard, Steve Jobs did not flatter external opinion for the sake of flattering, which meant that he was probably more of an asshole than other assholes. But Apple employees followed Jobs no matter what, because they saw complete calmness below the storming attitude, as if they were swimming in an ocean. Once they survived the madness on the surface, they could identify with the Zen-like stillness down below. Half-baked assholes do otherwise: they remain calm on the surface, as if to put a lid to their internal turmoil.
Jobs wasn’t interested in ruling others or being an asshole; he was just trying to be precise, until the day he died. That’s what we should copy.