Controversial feature paints Steve Jobs as a ‘Genius… and a jerk’

Macworld Australia Staff
24 July, 2012
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Wired magazine has featured Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on the cover in a controversial feature that explores the late CEO’s management style and its effect on tech leaders today, with the headline asking “Do you really want to be like Steve Jobs”

The cover image depicts Jobs’ dual and contradictory nature, with a halo and horns and taglines describing him as a “Buddhist… and a tyrant” and a “Genius… and a jerk”.

Reports claim that the feature entitled ‘The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale?’ “borrows heavily” from Walter Isaacson’s official biography of Steve Jobs released last year. Isaacson recently gave a lecture about his book in which he made it clear that anyone looking to copy the leader’s management style would be misguided if they thought it would make them as successful as Jobs.

“People have written about this book being a guide for managers. People tell me, ‘I’m like Steve! I push people to perfection. But you don’t need to push people to be like Steve, you need know how to be a genius at creating things, not just driving people crazy,” Isaacson said.

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review April Issue Isaacson summarises a set of leadership lessons he attributes to Jobs.  He wrote: “In the months since my biography of Jobs came out, countless commentators have tried to draw management lessons from it. Some of those readers have been insightful, but I think that many of them (especially those with no experience in entrepreneurship) fixate too much on the rough edges of his personality.”

Below is an excerpt from the feature in Wired – you can also read the full article here.

Join or get out of the way—it’s a phrase that sums up what Jobs’ life has taught his admirers today. Andrew Hargadon, a professor at UC Davis and author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, points out that Jobs’ brashness has helped inspire a larger reaction to several decades of conventional wisdom about the importance of worker empowerment and consensus decision- making. “Jobs is showing us the value in the old-school, autocratic way. We’ve gone so far toward the other extreme, toward a bovine sociology in which happy cows are supposed to produce more milk.” That is, it took a hippie-geek like Jobs to give other bosses permission to be aggressive and domineering again.

This isn’t aggression for its own sake but for the good of a company. Tristan O’Tierney, a Mac and iPhone software developer, helped Twitter creator Jack Dorsey found the credit-card-swiping startup Square three years ago. O’Tierney says that he now sees the value in bluntly telling people their work is crap. “You don’t make better products by saying everything is great,” he explains. “You make them better by forcing people to do work they didn’t know they had in them.” Aaron Levie, a self-described Jobs “wantrepreneur,” started Box, which allows cloud-based file-sharing, in his USC dorm room in 2005. To new hires, he quotes Jobs—”Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”—to make clear to them that Box is just such an environment. “My lesson from Jobs,” Levie says, “is that I can push my employees further than they thought possible, and I won’t rush any product out the door without it being perfect.” He adds: “That approach comes with collateral damage on the people side.”

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