In this article I write about the (perceived) abilities, attitudes and values of Steve Jobs.
Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?
-Steve Jobs to John Sculley
Photo by Danny Novo
Steve Jobs (Steven Paul Jobs) was born in United States in February 1955. He was given up for adoption by his mother Joanne Carole Schieble. Paul and Clara Jobs, a working-class couple living in California, adopted and raised him. After high school he went to Reed College, but dropped out officially after one semester. Nevertheless he stayed and audited some classes. When he returned to California, he applied successfully for a job at Atari. In April 1976 he co-founded Apple Computer Inc. with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Gerald Wayne. As Apple Computer went public in December 1980, Jobs shares were worth $ 217 million. In 1985 after an failed coup against the Apple CEO John Sculley, Steve Jobs was stripped of his operating responsibilities. In the same year he founded NeXT Inc. (NeXT Computer Inc.) and in 1986 the Pixar Animations Studios.
When Apple Computer bought NeXT Computer in 1997, Steve returned to Apple Computer as advisor. Nevertheless he soon took the helm and reorganized the board of directors. In 1997 he accepted the position of interim CEO (iCEO). In 2000 he dropped the “interim” from his title and became CEO of Apple Computer. He announced this – like nearly all important news about Apple – at a keynote, and was welcomed by an audience; who cheered and chanted “Steve”. When the Walt Disney Company bought Pixar Animations Studios in 2006, Jobs became the largest shareholder of Disney and in the same year he became the Director of the Walt Disney Company.
Steve Jobs is attributed with a wide range of abilities and skills. Those which are crucial for representation, influencing, and public speaking are explained. Large parts of the following information were drawn from two biographies, which mostly deal with the 80ies and 90ies. Yet, newer information usually supports these “facts” or at least does not contradicts them.
The Public Speaker
Steve Jobs is one of the best communicators in North American business. He is profiled as one of the role models in the book of the communication coach Carmine Gallo “Fire Them Up!” One of his biographers, the author, Alan Deutschman, goes so far as to write that there is no one in (North) American business that is that charismatic and hypnotizing.
Steve Jobs public speaking skills are widely known mostly due his famous keynotes. Yet, a lot of his topics are those which are widely considered as boring, like computers and technology. He manages to talk about them with excitement and passion in such a way that they become enjoyable for the audience.
Rhetorical qualities are only one element of his success as a keynote speaker. He also exploits a wide range of showmanship and audiovisual effects to spice up his keynotes. Deutschman notes that at Macworld 1998, Steve Jobs walked on the stage with a leather jacket and gave the jacket to an assistant so that it appeared as if he just came in with a motorcycle.
Additionally, he acts as calm, enthusiastic, and confident on the stage as others do in their living room. The author and Associate Professor of Management Garr Reynolds put it this way: “His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. […] He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.” (Presentation Zen – Steve Jobs and the art of the swordsman)
The Seducer, the Charmer, the Persuader
Steve Jobs ability to influence individual people is stated in numerous articles. The myth of his reality distortion field was already born in the 1980ies. According to the biographies (Deutschman, Alan: The Second Coming of Steve Jobs; Young, Jeffrey S.; Simon, William L.: iCon Steve Jobs – The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business), Steve Jobs was able to successfully convince people during his life of different things – independent of the relationship, circumstances or topic, like getting investment capital for the Apple I, convincing John Sculley to join Apple, staying at Reed College without paying the tution, and convincing someone to take him on his private plane from Portland to San Diego.
Jobs uses various techniques to influence and convince people. One known is, repeating the first name of the person to whom he talks often and holding strong eye-contact, which creates familiarity. Such methods combined with his authority and high social status are even more effective, since he draws on sympathy and authority, which are according to Cialdini two of the six major persuasion factors. According to Jim Oliver, Jobs possessed a memory that allowed him to remember a lot of people and the content of their communication. This allows him to (re-)establish closeness and familiarity by relating to known content and also to create rapport faster.
The Calibrator or Applying Diversity
One of the great strengths of Steve Jobs is his ability to calibrate to various situations and people. Calibration is a term used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and is in similar form widely known in rhetoric since the antiquity as propriety (aptum/decorum). It seems ironic that recent research on leadership discovered that this principle also holds for leadership, the leader needs to understand his followers, thus the “most desirable traits and actions have to fit with the culture of the group being led and thus vary from group to group.” (Scientific American – New Psychology of Leadership) This suggests that the ability to calibrate seems to be widely unacknowledged as a fundamental skill or trait.
There are a number of stories about Steve Jobs behavior ranging from terrifying to charming in different environments and social situations. He not only motivates employees in a positive way that creates harmony and resonance, but also in a way that creates disharmony and dissonance. He catches people off guard or makes them feel at least a bit uncomfortable. It appears he uses what seems more functional and/or appropriate to him at the given moment.
Susan Barnes thinks that Steve Jobs did not change his approach, because he could get away with it 99 out of 100 times. He used the role of the “bad boy” in order to disarm other people, thus making them uncomfortable and giving him a subtile advantage.
Deutschman writes that Steve Jobs used a wide range of approaches to promote perfectionism. He could do it with charm and creativity, but also with critique and intimidation. He also used very indirect methods like a demonstration by Aikido masters to show the employees to take negative energy and transform it into positive energy. One of the latest accounts is that he stared at his team and noted: “We don’t have a product yet.” Instead of throwing a tantrum: “The effect was even more terrifying than one of Jobs’ trademark tantrums. When the Apple chief screamed at his staff, it was scary but familiar. This time, his relative calm was unnerving.” (Wired – The Untold Story: How the iPhone Blew Up the Wireless Industry) It appears Steve Jobs is a master, when it comes to the quote of Tony Robbins: “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” Steve Jobs’ ability and experience with various different approaches gives him a elaborate potential on how to act in different situations to achieve different outcomes. It can be assumed that a large part of this ability is unconscious and is reflected by his intuition for appropriate actions.
Attitudes, Beliefs, and Values
In this section, Steve Jobs’ perceived attitudes, beliefs, and values are described. It should be noted that the “reality” of these factors is of less importance than the projected/perceived elements.
Design, Functionality, and Quality
Jobs was and is fascinated by good design; some state even that he is obsessive about it: “His obsession with look and feel, this fetishization, is what distinguishes every Jobs product. Design as psychological health and personal creed.” (Vanity Fair – iPod, Therefore I Am) But aesthetics is only one part for Steve Jobs the other complementary is functionality. As he explained in an interview in 1996: “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” (Wired – Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing)
Steve Jobs wanted to inject his passion for aesthetics into his NeXT-partners. He added a visit to a building of Frank Lloyd Wright to a business trip in Fall 1985. He wanted convey to his partners the combination of good looks and functionality.
Steve Jobs is portrayed as a perfectionist and obsessed with quality. He demonstrates this in a lot of aspects from food to employees to his products. This attitude resulted sometimes in strange occasions, like buying nothing, because the products were simply not good enough for his standards. For Steve Jobs in the NeXT days, a new computer had to be like a revolution. It appears that this did not change: “Everything had to be just right…no not ‘just right’, it had to be great.” (Making It Look Easy – The Birth of the iPod)
In an interview of 2008, Steve Jobs gives a good insight in his demand on perfectionism:
We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? […] And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it. And we think it is.
-CNN Money – Steve Jobs speaks out
Boldness and Unpredictability
Steve Jobs’ sometimes inappropriate behavior is not the result of missing social competence. Jobs is direct, brutal, and non-diplomatic in expressing his opinions. According to Deutschman (The Second Coming of Steve Jobs), Jobs treated every person without restraint, independent of their occupation or relation towards him.
The stories about Jobs’ boldness are various and sometimes hilarious: He screamed and insulted high-ranking business people, like the number two of Sun Microsystems and he walked into General Motors to get an instant meeting with the CEO Roger Smith. Once he asked the President of France Francois Mitterrand if he could have Italian food instead of French! Another time, he interrupted his business partner, Heidi Roizen, and asked during a negotiation, if she is originally blond.
Besides his impressive resume, the image of Steve Jobs may be even more impressive. To put it simply: Steve Jobs was and is a legend, at least in the United States. He made the personal computer popular and was one of the “first true business celebrities” in the mid-1980s. Then he was kicked out of his “own” company. Ten years later, when Apple was going down the drain, he returned to bring it back to the top. His celebrity and rock star status increased even more as he is presented “as the driving force behind iconic products such as the iPod.” (Business Week – Is Steve Jobs Untouchable?)
Fortune even put it this way
Jobs, at age 53, has even become global cultural guru, shaping what entertainment we watch, how we listen to music, and what sort of objects we use to work and play. He has changed the game for entire industries.
-Fortune – The trouble with Steve Jobs
His fame is clearly reflected by the attention he gets from authorities and the media. Jack Welch called Jobs “the most successful CEO today”. TIME magazine covered Steve Jobs several times. Generally, Steve Jobs is a magnet for media attention, which to certain parts is due to his roller coaster life, his personality – he has been portrayed as everything from an evangelist to an asshole – and his ability to use the media.
Leander wrote: “Jobs gets an inordinate amount of press attention given the size of the Mac market.” [The Cult of Mac: p. 48] Since 2006 he has a virtual double – in the form of a blog. The latest biography about him was published in April 2008. His commencement speech at Stanford University given in June 2005 has a view count of 3,026,505 (December 31, 2009) and various honors at youtube.com (for an interesting analysis take a look at the Six Minutes Blog Article – Video Critique: Steve Jobs. In 2009 Carmine Gallo published the book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
His fame is also reflected in the attention his keynotes receive. An ex-Apple employee put it his way:
If the chief executive of Cadbury-Schweppes speaks at a conference, or Nike’s boss introduces a new kind of trainer, you might expect to see it covered in specialist magazines, then quickly forgotten. But on Tuesday a chief executive will stand up and announce something, and within minutes it will be scrutinised across the web and on stockbrokers’ computers. It will be in newspapers. They’ll talk about it for months. That chief executive is Steve Jobs.
-Guardian – Behind the magic curtain