Steve Jobs: Genius or Jerk?

Jeff Crosby, our associate publisher for sales and marketing here at IVP, said Walter Isaacson’s book [Steve Jobs]( was simultaneously among the most inspiring and disturbing books he’d ever read. The uncompromising despot of perfectionism at Apple regularly screamed obscenities at coworkers and rolled out one megahit product after another, making Apple one of the most successful companies of our era.

Jobs’s life shakes up a hornet’s

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nest full of questions. Did Steve Jobs succeed at Apple because of his tyrannical style or in spite of it? Does insulting people actually make them perform better? Does the pursuit of perfection justify breaking promises, treating people like trash and sacrificing family?

Surprisingly (to me), many people answer yes. Ben Austen’s cover story in Wired chronicles the divided reaction to Jobs, especially as unflinchingly portrayed in Isaacson’s book. True believers find the following lessons to emulate in Jobs’s style:

  • “You can push colleagues to extraordinary lengths.”
  • “Good leadership is unsentimental.”
  • “Tolerate only A players.”
  • “Force the whole world to bend to your vision.”

On the other side are entrepreneurs who saw Isaacson’s book as a cautionary tale–a warning that to follow Jobs’s lead would be to plunge into a dark abyss. They see exact counter lessons in his life:

  • “Don’t screw over your friends.”
  • “To foster loyalty in employees, you need to be loyal to them.”
  • “Scared employees don’t take risks.”
  • “Understand the limits of your power.”

And Isaacson himself? “He now tends to defend Jobs against personal attacks,” seeing many of them as cases of pots calling the kettle unethical in business and unloving to his family. Isaacson “points out that Jobs ended up with a strong marriage and four loving children, all of whom were at his side during his illness. . . and for the last two decades of his life he came home just about every night and sat down for dinner.”

Ultimately Jobs is an exceedingly complex figure, which makes him incredibly fascinating. Whatever takeaway there is from his life needs to be equally nuanced.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

One thought on “Steve Jobs: Genius or Jerk?”

  1. An interesting person (and persona). I haven’t read his bio but think his life experienced internal conflict due in large part to his rejection of Christianity during his teenage years. Later a self-styled Buddhist, he denied the One who could have offered him true meaning and peace.

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