Recent films, including the Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin biopic Steve Jobs, which was released this weekend, have painted the Apple co-founder as brash, arrogant, andoften disrespectful. At the risk of reducing one of the most influential visionaries of our generation to a caricature, I can imagine that Jobs was all of those things, at least to a degree. (A good number of his associates certainly felt that way.)
But it’s also worth noting that many of Jobs’s colleagues went out of their way to continue working with him. For example, when Jobs was infamously “forced out” of Apple (depending on which version of the story you believe), he went on to found NeXT. This new startup focused on producing high-powered computers for the higher education industry. The company and technology were eventually purchased by Apple, laying the foundation for what we now know as OS X, iOS, watchOS, and the App Store.
It could be argued that the early NeXT version of Steve Jobs was his worst: a 31 year old multimillionaire who was strongly convinced that he was right most–if not all–of the time. But interestingly, when Jobs departed from Apple, a large part of the team that worked with him on the Macintosh also left to join NeXT. In doing so, they abandoned secure jobs at Apple to follow their boss in pursuit of a new vision.
Which leads us to ask: If Jobs was really that bad, why did so many of his team follow him wherever he went?
The answer is simple: Steve Jobs got the best out of the people he worked with.
Andy Cunningham, who helped lead the PR and marketing efforts that launched the Macintosh, was one such faithful employee. Not only did she follow Jobs from Apple to NeXT, she continued to work with him closely at Pixar.
A couple of weeks ago, Cunningham wrote a stunning review of the aforementioned film about Apple’s famous founder. (Cunningham is portrayed in the movie by actress Sarah Snook.) In retrospect, she describes Jobs as “a visionary, a genius, a driven and infrequently tender soul, a father, and a Machiavellian mastermind.” She also helps answer the question above, from her perspective:
“I spent five years working closely with Steve and it was a most phenomenal experience that touched me emotionally every day with amazement, anger, and satisfaction all at once. It took me way beyond where I ever thought I would go. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
In a speech he made a day after Jobs’s death, former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki (who claims to have survived working for Jobs twice), also spoke about Jobs’s remarkable ability to evoke greatness from others. In enumerating the most important lessons he learned from his former boss, Kawasaki waxed poetic:
“What I learned in the Macintosh division working with those hundred or so other great people was that we rose to the occasion, we did our best work in our careers because we were presented with the biggest challenge…. If you ask an employee of Apple, you know, why do they put up with…the challenges of working for Apple, they will tell you…because Apple enables you to do the best work of your career.”
Just how was Jobs able to inspire such great work? In aninterview that appeared in Fast Company earlier this year, current Apple CEO Tim Cook shed some light on the topic:
“Steve cared deeply about the why. The why of the decision. In the younger days, I would see him just do something. But as the days went on, he would spend more time with me and with other people explaining why he thought or did something, or why he looked at something in a certain way.”
Cook admits that Jobs “wasn’t a saint.” But he emphasized that the Apple co-founder cared deeply about both the things he made and the people he worked with. “A lot of people mistook that passion for arrogance,” he continues.
And herein lays the crux of the matter:
The passion Steve Jobs demonstrated was contagious. For all his faults, he mastered the ability to get others to see things from a different perspective.
In the end, perhaps he knew what he was doing all along:
If he didn’t kill you, he would make you stronger.