I confess. I’m an Apple fanboy. I try not to be dogmatic about it. Plenty of other companies make great products too, but there’s something special about Apple products that inspires an almost militant loyalty in their customers.
I’m convinced a big part of that “something special” is the mystical persona that is Steve Jobs.
His resignation from Apple CEO yesterday is the biggest tech story of the year and has inspired countless blog posts almost all of which are more insightful than this one. Reading some of the posts, I found myself continually asking the question:
What was it about Steve Jobs that made him legendary?
A year or so ago I discovery the blog memoirs of some of the original Macintosh team at Folklore.org. The posts contain personal recollection by team members of different technological accomplishments as well as famous events (such as Jobs’ removal in 1985). Between the content on Folklore.org and a few well crafted Internet bios I started to get a picture of the mythic figure of Jobs.
A few quotes seemed to illustrate Jobs’ character in an unexpected way:
About his time at Atari:
“Jobs was offered US$750, with an extra $100 each time a chip was eliminated from the prospected design. Jobs promised to complete a prototype within four days. Jobs noticed his friend Steve Wozniak—employee of Hewlett-Packard—was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips, and invited him to work on the hardware design with the prospect of splitting the $750 wage. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had “tricky little designs” difficult to understand for most engineers. Near the end of development, Wozniak considered moving the high score to the screen’s top, but Jobs claimed Bushnell wanted it at the bottom; Wozniak was unaware of any truth to his claims. The original deadline was met after Wozniak did not sleep for four days straight. In the end 50 chips were removed from Jobs’ original design. This equated to a US$5,000 bonus, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak, instead only paying him $375.”
The Jobs reality distortion field:
“Well, it’s Steve. Steve insists that we’re shipping in early 1982, and won’t accept answers to the contrary. The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek. Steve has a reality distortion field.”
“A reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules. And there’s a couple of other things you should know about working with Steve.”
Before his removal from Apple in 85:
“after a brief period of depressed cooperation, Steve started attacking John again, behind the scenes in a variety of ways. I won’t go into the details here, but eventually John had to remove Steve from his management role in the Macintosh division involuntarily. Apple announced Steve’s removal,”
Reading these stories caused me to have a revelation. Steve Jobs didn’t sound like someone I would like to have as my boss. In fact, Jobs sounded like someone I would hate to work for. Reality distortion, undercutting, back-biting and manipulative – who would want to work for that?
My fanboy-ism had led me to believe I would give anything to work at Apple, but maybe the reality is I wouldn’t like it. Apple has hundreds of employees who have for years worked under Jobs’ legendary micro-management. How is it that all of these people (and for that matter the original Mac employees) put up with him?
Because vision trumps everything.
Jobs’ vision was to change the world with beautiful technology. It has been essentially the same since he founded the company 30-ish years ago. He’s famously good at communicating his vision so that people go absolutely nuts for it. When you have that kind of vision, people will bend over backwards for it (and you).
As Church leaders we know this. We’ve seen it in action, but it’s good to be reminded of what visionary leaders can accomplish.
Thanks for the example Steve, and good luck.