Wednesday, November 09, 2011

False Idolatory and Role Models

Blogpost summary: 8.3/10 on the rant scale.

I. Epic Stuff:
Jobs was outraged and summoned Gates from Seattle to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “They met in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him,” [...]
‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ ” 

Gates looked back at Jobs calmly. Everyone knew where the windows and the icons came from. “Well, Steve,” Gates responded. “I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Jobs was someone who took other people’s ideas and changed them. But he did not like it when the same thing was done to him.
And read this for a better background (and also here)

II. i loved his presentation skills. i learnt a lot from his Stanford Speech. There are detractors (this too) but overall, i agree with what Jobs says in the speech. Jobs' tenacity, passion and legendary attention to detail are also obviously worth emulating. 

But what i cannot understand is the blind idolisation of the man by certain sections of the public and media. He clearly had his share of negatives. For example, along with his attention to detail came a nasty impatience with colleagues. 
In the coming months, many employees developed a fear of encountering Jobs while riding in the elevator, "afraid that they might not have a job when the doors opened...
(See here and here)
His arrogance and sharp tongue are probably as legendary as his products. I'm also uncomfortable with some of his personal decisions:
For two years, though already wealthy, he (Steve Jobs) denied paternity while Lisa's mother went on welfare. At one point Jobs even swore in a signed court document that he couldn't be Lisa's father because he was "sterile and infertile, and as a result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child." He later acknowledged paternity of Lisa [...]

From what i've seen, members of his hard-core supporter group (HCSG) just don't acknowledge all this. (I guess that is why they are called 'hard-core'). What is also curious is that the HCSG also tries to justify some of his personal decisions. Take charity, for example. It is widely believed that Jobs was not particularly philanthropically inclined

Even as a non-member of the HCSG, i don't mind that Jobs didn't give. It was his money. As long as it was legally earned and taxes paid, it's none of my business to crib about his lack of giving - not counting the fact that his charity may well have been private. 

But why do we see poor justifications like this? This article almost looks like Steve Jobs' sole objective in making an iPhone was to make the world a happier place to live in! Or if an organisation made a great product, they don't have to care about philanthropy.

Also, while i don't mind Jobs' non-giving, i do mind him talking badly about those who do  give. Jobs on Gates
"Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he's more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology.

III. This entire thing serves to reinforce in myself some of what i try to follow about public role-models (PRMs):

i. They are not meant to be copied to the last atom of their personalities. It is essential to selectively emulate. A negative attribute (arrogance, aggression, cheating etc.) is negative even if it exists in famous CEO of XYZ, also a person who gives tremendously to charity.

Many of these people have double lives - a flashy testosterone-driven 'cool' life in front of the cameras and a depressed shadow life behind the scenes.They ain't all that cool when you get to know them really well.

ii. Content not Covering. Great presentation skills, looks that can kill, smart dressing, power exuding from his armpits etc: Keep all that aside. What is the life s/he's leading? What's s/he saying? There have been umpteen instances where i've come back from a presentation or talk by a PMR where he's spoken nonsense but look all around and you'll find eyes popping out of sockets among a big fan-following going ga-ga over...over what? Don't know. Just the personality, i guess.

iv. PRMs don't operate alone. They have a team working for them. Next time you hear an exceptional speech by a PRM, applaud it but consider that it may have come from a very good speech writer. So don't feel bad for yourself :)

v. Respect but do not be in jaw-dropping awe of PRM. For one, it indicates a lack of confidence in yourself as a unique human being.

vi. Be objective. You are not obliged to - and in fact, shouldn't - defend your PRM for every thing s/he thinks/says/does.

vii. A role model is not equivalent to a mentor. Getting a good mentor is one of the best things that can happen to one's life and career. A PRM is dispensable.
1. Sorry for the link loading but here's another good link.
2. For all the hoopla, look what's happening to the market share.
3. Couldn't resist another link


Sandeep Bhasin said...

I was getting ready for a showdown with you (when we exchanged smses last night and you indicated that you were writing something on Steve) expecting you to write in support of Steve... As usual, I was wrong... and was happy that once again we were on the same page.

I finished reading his well-publicized biography last night... I concluded that he was just a mortal like you and me and not what people have made him out to be. Looking at his success over the last 25 years, he failed constantly with some bips of success but the packaging of successes were so great that we all were in awe of this man. You did point out in your post that he used to present others' ideas as his own but never allowed (and in most of the cases publicly humiliated) others for taking a leaf from his 'proprietary' ideas. One of his favorites was Bill Gates who actually saved him from extinction when he was on the brink of disappearance by investing in his company. In Bill Gates words, he was a 'super salesman' and nothing more. Towards the end of his life, he told one of his associates that he wanted to destroy Google and he would do that even if it costs him $ 60 billion because they copied his App Store idea. He took everything personally.

What I really liked about his working style, which his competitors, in the hindsight, also accept as a fair personal strategy, was 'Reality distortion field'. He used to force his team to believe that things can be done in a way he perceives and in the time frame he dictated. His team delivered most of the times. One takeaway from this is that if one has the will-power, anything is achievable.

As for his personality, well, I would never work for such a person. I am more like Steve Wozniak, his partner and the real brain behind Apple I and II, who is more 'child-like', clean at heart, does not bother about who gets the credit, and has his own sweet world to live in.

I just hope leaders don't learn anything wrong from Jobs although it looks quite tempting. He could carry it well (he did not even spare Obama and screwed him over a couple of meetings according to his Biographer)but I am not sure of the rest of us lesser mortals!

Sharan Sharma said...

Thanks Sandeep. Completely agree with you. It's difficult to keep the hype away.