Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Let me be blunt here, Steve Jobs, really, was a perfect asshole. Walter Isaacson's new biography is an incredible read simply because Steve Jobs was an incredible human being. Jobs would quite publicly--and sometime for no reason at all--eviscerate his employees, his friends, and sometimes those he even claimed to love, rip them to shreds. Really. He demanded 200% from them every week of their lives, then, frequently, threw them under the Apple bus if by his bizarre standards he didn't think he was getting it.
He truly believed that pushing people literally beyond their limits was the only way to get their best work. Sometimes he was right. Sometimes not
When Apple became too big for him to run, he wined and dined John Scully from Pepsi, Inc., created a thick and syrupy relationship and professed his undying love, then, not long after, tried to kick him face first into the gravel at the side of the road. Isaacson makes a big deal out of Jobs's being abandoned as a child, a child born out of wedlock and put up for adoption, a man who was always looking for someone who'd love him. I'm not sure the I-was-rejected template fits so glove-like over Jobs's strange life. After all, his adoptive family simply adored him and, like so many, often bent over backwards to indulge him and his weird and wacky ways. But it's a theory worth pursuing, as Isaacson does and it is one way to make sense out of the mystery that is Steve Jobs.
Let there be no doubt--Jobs was a genius, and, sadly enough, seemed to know it and, worse, preach it. He therefore expected others to emulate his barbarism. He believed, strangely, that if he stuck religiously to his vegan diet, he would have no reason to shower. Hundreds of those around him knew without a doubt that the theory was fiendishly wrong because the man stunk. In high-power business meetings, he quite regularly picked at bare feet; impish, childish, thoughtless behavior simply came with the territory. He was a petulant cry-baby. But then, he was a celebrity long before he was thirty.
He lived in houses that he rarely furnished, had hundreds of black turtlenecks, and considered acid--LSD--the key to his ability to think creatively, to "think different," even highly recommended its use.
Yet, almost singlehandedly, he altered the course of our lives. No one--not George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined--have changed the world as he has. Like it or not, we all dance to his tunes these days, and Apple, the company he founded and ran--sometimes successfully, sometimes not--is bigger today even than Microsoft, bigger than anything, despite the fact that Jobs didn't so much serve the public as scream at them. He never really asked our opinions, and he didn't believe in focus groups. He simply told us what we wanted--like the iPad. He changed all of our lives.
But I'm happy not to have known him. I'm sure I would have been a shithead, his pet name for the second-stringers he fired like empty canisters, even when they'd once been friends.
He was Captain Ahab, a monomaniac aboard a vessel he made himself, fiendishly chasing white whale-ish projects. He was a man whose blue tirades were as frequent as his pitiable tears--on dozens of occasions, he'd bawl when he didn't get his way. He was a true believer in himself and his ideas; according to Isaacson, if he wanted something badly enough, he was willing to alter reality, not only in his own mind but in all of those who were near him as well. He created worlds in his mind that simply didn't exist, then doggedly believed they did and expected others to as well. He worked very hard to create a unblinking stare he pulled regularly from his holster. He was, really, a perfect asshole.
And a mystery. Why would a man who, as a baby, had been given up for an adoption by unmarried, youthful parents, simply swear off a child he himself fathered when he was exactly his birth parents' age? Why would he abandon cancer treatments recommended by the best doctors in the world for goofball, fly-by-night gimmickry?
Because he was Steve Jobs, the monomaniac.
Isaacson's bio is an "authorized" account, but Jobs told him not to fudge on the truth, and Isaacson didn't. Most of the time, Jobs the Genius feels for all the world like Jobs the Jerk.
But he changed all of our lives, like few have.
He was a genius.
But what a price.
It's an amazing book, a terrific read. But then, Jobs is an absolutely fascinating subject, even if he was a perfect asshole, maybe because he was.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:04 AM