Steve Jobs: Visionary, pioneer ... jerk?

The death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs elicited an avalanche of media coverage, most of which called him a visionary genius.

But it wasn't long before another current of comment began to surface. Jobs, one of a very small number of people who could be considered the founding fathers of personal computing, was not universally beloved as a man, even by admirers of his intellect.

“Steve Jobs was a major, world-class jerk,” begins one such article, by David Coursey in Forbes. “A friend who knows about these things — but not Steve — wonders if he wasn’t at least a borderline sociopath. If you define that as someone who does evil things and doesn’t feel remorse, the picture of a smirking Steve Jobs does begin to emerge.”

Coursey goes on to praise Jobs' genius, however, and eventually offers career advice to other would-be leaders: “If you can’t match [Jobs'] genius and ability to imagine and deliver, you haven’t earned the right to match his behavior.”

Elsewhere in Forbes, Frederick Allen highlights Jobs' famous commencement speech at Stanford, one that gained renewed popularity on YouTube and in text after Jobs' death. Allen said the part advising graduates to find work they love is “absolutely right-on advice — as long as you’re Steve Jobs. For many, if not most, people, it might be a recipe for disaster.”

Robin Hanson, writing on the blog "Overcoming Bias," expanded on the point by seizing on Jobs' advice to “never settle.”

“Now try to imagine a world where everyone actually tried to follow this advice,” Hanson writes. “And notice that we have an awful lot of things that need doing [that] are unlikely to be anyone’s dream job. So a few folks would be really happy, but most everyone else wouldn’t stay long on any job, and most stuff would get done pretty badly. Not a pretty scenario.”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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Reader comments

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 Chris Air Force Academy

Steve was a visionary leader without a doubt. As for his personality, I will never know him personally, but from what I've seen on youtube, he was a car-salesman-like jerk at times, and as he grew up, he became more reserved and humble.

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 Golden Apple Fanboy

Unless and until somebody strings 'em up, what our society considers material success is always exemplified by some sort of a pirate. It's what we value. Now in Jobs case he probably started out a little scurvy, but add to that a growing cancerous pain and a death-obsession for a global legacy, literally to and in spite of the throng of detractors of lesser spirit and intelligence ... presto, Epic figure...imagine that.

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 EricE

@John" I wonder how well Apple could've done under Scully's guidance" Uh, we did get to see it - it sucked! Even Scully has admitted he was in way over his head. Apple is Apple because of Jobs - period. @Richard "Years from now, the iPhone, Mac, iPad and other realizations of Job's genious will be anachronistic footnotes in technology texts. Gates contributions to the entire world will be a legacy of accomplishment and generosity taught to generations of our children, and their children." Huh? You have no idea how either Jobs or Gates dealt with their home life. I have a sneaky suspicion that Gates is just as much a workaholic adrenaline junky as Jobs - successful people are successful for a reason! I also think it's hilarious that since Steve Jobs passed people are acting like Apple is just going to dissolve away into irrelevance. The number one "product" of Steve Jobs is Apple itself - including an acute awareness of the failures of companies that went through similar issues when their founders moved on (HP being the most recent train wreck). You are going to be waiting a VERY long time waiting for Apple to be an "anachronistic footnote". Sheesh - what absurd hyperbole...

Wed, Oct 26, 2011

If you want to make omelettes, you have to crack eggs. Steve Jobs never concerned himself with being liked becuase he put advancing technology first and foremost. As a technology user and Apple customer, I am fine with that. I don't need him to be my friend, and I am not in his family. The work-life sacrifices he made are made by many CEO's, and we don't judge them on their private lives. So, let's not judge Jobs. He did what he was supposed to do...innovate and create jobs. If more CEO's did this, our country would be better off. As to the Stanford commencement address, I would hope that anyone who graduated from Stanford would not settle. We need to expect more from those who graduate from leading universities, and we need them to follow their passions.

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 John Denver

Not to kick a guy while he's down (and out), but...I did a report on Apple back in the 1980's, and Jobs was a total jerk to his compadres. I wonder how well Apple could've done under Scully's guidance (he's the daddy of the PDA, iPod fans, as Jobs was out of apple when the Newton launched), or even a less narcissistic Jobs...btw - I'm a PC (Linux, and andriod too).

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