Steve Paul Jobs (1955 – 2011) claims the title of the iconic leader of the personal computer (and digital device) revolution of the late 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Apple Inc, Pixar and NeXT Inc, Jobs’ genius was behind the Apple brand, the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. As well as the revolutionary wave of animation from Pixar, including the much loved Toy Story series.
In this post I look at Jobs the man and his legacy through the lens of Jungian psychology. What can we learn about the psyche of Jobs, what motivated him, what haunted him and to what can we attribute his legacy as imagineer extraordinaire. What does it take to ‘think different’, ‘make a dent in the universe’ and ‘stop making sugar water and change the world’.
Who was this man who so embodied the tech revolution, personal computing, Silicon Valley and its curious blend of counter culture, technology and massive commercialisation.
A (very) short biography
Jobs, born out of wedlock to a Syrian father, Abdulfattah Jandali, and American mother, Joanne Carole Schieble was given up for adoption by his birth parents. He was adopted and raised by Paul Reinhold Jobs and Clara Jobs (nee. Hagopian). He grew up in what would become Silicon Valley, in California, graduated from Homestead High in Cupertino and enrolled in Reed Collage (a Liberal Arts college in Portland, Oregon), but dropped out after a single semester.
Jobs started Apple Computer with his friend and partner, the engineering genius Steve Wozniak, in 1971, from the garage of his parent’s home. The initial success of Apple, besides for Jobs entrepreneurial flair, was driven by the phenomenal engineering feat by Wozniak of the Apple I and Apple II. Apple’s initial meteoric rise stalled in the mid eighties and internal conflict saw Jobs ousted from the company he founded with Wozniak.
After leaving Apple, Jobs founded NeXT Computer which had mixed fortunes until bought by Apple in 1997 for $429 million.
After NeXT came Pixar, a little known digital animation company Jobs bought from Lucasfilm for $10 million. Jobs funded Pixar, for a number of years, whilst it lost money, until it contracted to Disney to produce Toy Story and in the process redefined animated movies. Shortly after that Pixar listed, and Jobs’ share holding (about 80% of the company) was valued at around $1.2 billion!
In 2006 Disney bought Pixar outright for $7.4 billion. In the process Jobs was elected to the board of Disney and became the single largest shareholder in Disney owning about 7% of the stock.
Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. He was appointed as Apple’s CEO (iCEO or interim CEO for the first two years). This was Jobs triumphant return to the company he had founded with Wozniak all those years ago. Apple was in serious trouble at the time with massive losses and a complete lack of innovation. He famously only took a salary of $1 a year for the first two years. He was fond of telling people they pay me 50 cents for showing up and the other 50 cents is based on performance.
Jobs brought Apple back from the dead. Once its core business was stable and the company was once again profitable, Jobs did what he did best – innovate. And by innovate here we are talking about innovation that changed the digital world. After the iMac came the Apple Stores, IPod, ITunes, the Iphone and IPad. Products which took Apple from being a pioneer in the world of personal computers to (as of September 2011) the largest publicly traded company in the world by market capitalisation and the largest technology company in the world by revenue and profit.
In 2010 Forbes estimated Jobs’ personal net wealth at $8.3 billion dollars, making him the 42nd wealthiest American. Jobs was named the most powerful person in business by Fortune in 2007 and the 17th most powerful person in the world by Forbes in 2011.
Jobs developed health problems (despite being a strict vegan most of his life as well as an ascetic) in the late nineties, early two thousands. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 which he fought to his early death age 56 in October 2011.
Visionary, inventor, innovator, technologist, entrepreneur – Jobs must go down as one of the most influential businessmen of the 20th century.
Inside Steve Jobs
One thing becomes abundantly clear on reading Jobs’ biography. He was not a nice guy. He had an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. He was brutal with his staff, colleagues and members of the boards that oversaw him as CEO. He pushed people beyond their limits, demanded more than was reasonable “make it insanely great”, and did not balk at telling those who fell short of the bar, “your work is basically shit, you are a b player you shouldn’t be on this team”.
That was the nicer side of Jobs. The really ugly side came out if you were a business competitor. Jobs did not rest until he defeated those he stood against or stood against him. He either crushed them or lived in the aspiration of crushing them at some point in the future. This quote, from the Isaacson biography, sums up his approach to his competitors quite nicely:
Our lawsuit is saying, “Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.” Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google’s products- Android, Google Docs- are shit.
No doubt Jobs would have been a worthy successor to Sun Tzu to write a version of The Art of War for the 20th and 21st centuries.
This was Job’s shadow. And like all genius, the brighter and more penetrating its light, the darker the shadow.
Jobs was the archetypal perfectionist. Constantly striving to do things simpler, better and with more beauty. Constantly raising the bar on Apple’s products. Always restless, never satisfied.
Jobs lived the Apple maxim- think different.
Jobs was a minimalist, deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism. He had a tremendous love of beauty, art and design. His favourite course at Reed College (after he dropped out and was simply auditing the classes) was in calligraphy. And this combination of aesthetic sensitivity and minimalism has become the signature design style of Apple’s products.
The Steve Jobs Paradox
A paradox one has to come to terms with, in attempting to understand Steve Jobs, was his personal adoption of ascetic values and disavowal of materialism, influenced by the counterculture of the sixties and the influence of Indian spirituality and Zen Buddhism, juxtaposed against the almost obscene commercialisation of Apple and the digital revolution it so exemplified. On the one hand Jobs preached non-attachment to material possessions (not only preached but embraced this philosophy personally) and on the other was fanatical in creating objects designed to maximise the buyer’s desire and subsequent attachment.
He liked to think of himself as belonging to the counter-culture embodied by the hacker mentality in the digital space and by artists like Bob Dylan (Jobs’ hero). Yet he was true blue capitalist obsessed with market share, market domination and profit; a shareholders dream CEO. Furthermore his business philosophy of building closed systems was in direct opposition to the open system as the highest value of the techno/digital community.
In this, I believe, Jobs embodied the central paradox of the digital revolution which is possibly best seen in the WWW culture and its espoused values. An open service for sharing information and forming mutually beneficial communities i.e. overtly socialist in nature, and simultaneously the breeding ground of spectacular capitalisation in the form of companies such as Google, Amazon and facebook.
7 Great Lessons from Steve Jobs
1. His life provides some insight into the key elements for excellence. Amongst these are passion, desire, belief and drive. Steve loved what he did so much he gave his life for it; and his level of commitment was absolute and unswerving.
2. The belief that the bar can always be raised. Steve was never complacent, never accepted that a product that wasn’t ‘insanely great’ could not be made to better. He was not afraid to press pause on a project and redo it, even going back to the drawing board if necessary if he wasn’t 100% convinced the product was the best it could be.
3. There is real value in beauty; the world has not yet succumbed to purely utilitarian values. In beauty we see transcendence and this is deeply important to the human spirit.
4. Genius comes at a high price. Rarely does a life of genius go hand in hand with a life of happiness. Jobs was not a ‘happy’ man, he no doubt experienced moments of sublime satisfaction and deep meaning, but happiness I think eluded him.
5. “Making a dent in the universe”, for those with the possibility of doing this, means living a life in service of that purpose. Stepping beyond the ego’s personal concerns such as comfort and happiness and living a life dedicated to that purpose.
6. It is still possible to be original, to have original ideas. Although to truly embrace such originality takes a tremendously strong personality. To be original means letting go of what is considered right, i.e. deemed correct by the masses, and stepping into the void –a scary place.
7. Being all you can be and doing all you can do means giving 100%. The question of what it takes to give 100% has long fascinated me. So few of us ever reach that level. I have suspected for some time that one way of realising that level of commitment is the awareness of death.
This is what Jobs’ had to say about it at the Stanford commencement speech in June 2005 (after he had been diagnosed with cancer):
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving what is only truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
An 8th (insanely) Great Lesson
I frequently refer in my posts to the Jungian idea of paradox. It is at the very core of understanding consciousness for Jung. This idea is beautifully illustrated by Steve Jobs. I have already made reference to the paradox of being an avowed non materialist and simultaneously being a golden boy of Western Capitalism.
Jobs was able to hold the intense tension of the opposites and allow them to propel him to ever greater heights.
- The opposites values of the arts and liberal humanities and the reductive and pragmatic values of technology brought together so brilliantly in Apple’s products.
- Being loved and hated, adored and vilified, frequently by the same people at different times.
- Being an Arab by birth and simultaneously living the life of the all American blue eyed boy.
- Having a very dark side and yet engendering love, beauty and truly meaningful innovation which improved the quality of peoples lives through his work.
- Finally, in the face of his own death, continuing to work tirelessly at something which would continue beyond him and also without him.
Steve Jobs understood the deceptively simple principle: life is not black or white, it is black and white.
A caveat (always read the fine print)
To be 100% clear. I am not suggesting that if you embrace the 8 points above, or if you study his biography from cover to cover, a very worthwhile read (Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson), or even if you say a sutra is his honour morning noon and night, you are going to be the next Steve Jobs. That is highly unlikely.
Steve Jobs was a genius of the calibre that does not come around too often. He also happened to be born in the right place, at the right time and to the right parents (his adopted rather than birth parents). These are gifts of grace rather than any personal act of will.
Also the essence of what breeds success is ineffable and impossible to define in its totality. In the case of Jobs his Arabic bloodline mixed with a good all American Calvinist upbringing proved a very effective combination. Giving him both cunning and a spectacular work ethic. Furthermore his obvious androgyny made him attractive and frequently irresistible to both men and woman.
All of these and countless other reasons all contributed to the final product that was Steve Jobs.
However I do believe we each harbour genius within us, and what we can learn from Steve Jobs is something of what it takes to give birth to that genius.
Finally then, a choice we all face: Self or Ego?
What really strikes me as significant in understanding Jobs’ story, the narrative of his life is the juxtaposition between being and doing. Steve Jobs like all of us was in the final analysis mortal, he was flawed and frail. This, in his case, is most noticeable in his premature death and the suffering he endured as a cancer patient.
For all his determination, genius, vision and passion he was unable to transcend the human condition. Particularly cruel, to my mind, is that a man who clearly was not immoderate in his appetites and followed an ascetic regime his entire adult life, should have his body fail him.
However, what can be argued is that his actions, his legacy, transcends his mortal frailties. That what he did, what he accomplished, is more important than his personal, subjective existence. An ethos that elevates doing over being, actions over thoughts. An attitude that was so well expressed in the archetypal English Gentleman of the Enlightenment, acting not for personal interest but for King and country.
Do your actions transcend you, in as much as you are identified with your personal existence?
If they do this is probably best understood as a cultural product rather than a universal truth. However, is culture not the very epitome of what is greatest about humanity; because of the very reason that it transcends our mortal and animal existence?
For Jung this was the battle between the Self and the ego. The Self being the big you the you capable of greatness, of meaningful contribution. However, as is so well illustrated in Jobs’ life, it comes at the price of the ego’s desires, which have to necessarily be sacrificed.
In as much as each of can stand back from our lives and view that life as a cosmic experiment the following applies. In order to make that experiment, in order to forward our hypothesis we need to give our lives to that experiment. By no means an easy point to come to for us mere mortals.
Are you willing to give your life to your experiment?
This is a question only you can answer.
The truth is not obvious. It is easy to stand in awe of a man like Steve Jobs, but less obvious whether or not you would choose to trade places with him.
To repeat though, I think what we can learn from Jobs and others who have so exemplified their purpose in their lives is that is what it takes. You need to give everything you have, without reservation unto (as in Jobs’ case) your dying breath.
I would like to conclude with a song from Dylan, Job’s spiritual mentor.
Are You Ready?
Are you ready, are you ready?
Are you ready, are you ready?
Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Are you where you ought to be?
Will He know you when He sees you
Or will He say, “Depart from Me”?
Are you ready, hope you’re ready
Am I ready, am I ready?
Am I ready, am I ready?
Am I ready to lay down my life for the brethren
And to take up my cross?
Have I surrendered to the will of God
Or am I still acting like the boss?
Am I ready, hope I’m ready
When destruction cometh swiftly
And there’s no time to say a fare-thee-well
Have you decided whether you want to be
In heaven or in hell?
Are you ready, are you ready?
Have you got some unfinished business?
Is there something holding you back?
Are you thinking for yourself
Or are you following the pack?
Are you ready, hope you’re ready
Are you ready?
Are you ready for the judgment?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?
Are you ready, I hope you’re ready
Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music (source: http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/are-you-ready).
Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson, 2011).