The news is full of analysis this morning about all the ways Apple’s Steve Jobs changed the world. Rightfully so. But he was also an interesting case study in human nature, and we can learn from what was good and maybe not so good.
Let’s put aside talk of the iPhone, iPad etc., and talk about the man. I’ll admit that I’ve always been hard in my judgement of Jobs. Sure I have no right to judge, but while none of us do, all of us do.
My view of Jobs has always been colored by the TV movie about him and Bill Gates called “The Pirates of Silicon Valley.” The film focuses intently on Jobs as a crazy, overbearing and even cruel executive. Apple employees wear shirts that say “90 hours a week and loving it!” He torments employees constantly in the film, and you find yourself thinking that it would be good if he got run over by a truck at the end of the movie.
But Jobs was a brilliant visionary, and brilliant visionaries always seem to fight harder against their demons than most people. Or maybe it just seems that way because they’re on the public stage.
Considering my own battles with personal demons, I’m actually awed by what it must have been like for him. I’m just a regular Joe. I’ve never invented things that will change how we live and I never will. But I’ve had to struggle plenty to be a better man. I’ve been cruel to people in my past. I’ve let obsessive-compulsive thinking drag me to the depths. Clawing back has been beyond hard.
It must have been a million times harder for a guy like Jobs, who possessed a talent and drive few on this Earth will ever know. When you’re so damn good at changing the world with technology, how can you not carry on like a deranged narcissist when you’re still young? Some manage to avoid that, but they are freakishly exceptional people.
While there are plenty of indications that Jobs remained a difficult boss to work for in his later years, there’s also a lot of evidence that he grew as a human being. Mark Milian at CNN wrote a good piece about Jobs’ spiritual growth. In it, he says:
“As with anyone, Jobs’ values were shaped by his upbringing and life experiences. He was born in 1955 in San Francisco and grew up amid the rise of hippie counterculture. Bob Dylan and the Beatles were his two favorite musical acts, and he shared their political leanings, antiestablishment views and, reportedly, youthful experimentation with psychedelic drug usage.
“The name of Jobs’ company is said to be inspired by the Beatles’ Apple Corps, which repeatedly sued the electronics maker for trademark infringement until signing an exclusive digital distribution deal with iTunes. Like the Beatles, Jobs took a spiritual retreat to India and regularly walked around his neighborhood and the office barefoot.
“Traversing India sparked Jobs’ conversion to Buddhism. Kobun Chino, a monk, presided over his wedding to Laurene Powell, a Stanford University MBA.
“Rebirth is a precept of Buddhism, and Apple experienced rebirth of sorts when Jobs returned, after he was fired, to remake a company that had fallen the verge of bankruptcy.”
He still fought personal demons, to be sure. But you could say he died a better man than he once was.
It doesn’t matter who you are and how big you become. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have or if you create things that change how everyone else lives.
If your soul doesn’t evolve and you fail to be good to the people in your life, the rest doesn’t matter much, does it? That’s my belief, anyway. Feel free to disagree.
I think Jobs did grow inside, and good for him.