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Steve Jobs Was an Asshole

By Mar 19,2013 Follow Me on Google+

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Summary

I once hired someone who formerly worked directly for Steve Jobs (when Jobs was young).

This person was happy to tell anyone who would listen in no uncertain terms what an asshole he thought Jobs was and how much everyone disliked him. He made statements like:

  • “He expects perfection.”
  • “He fires people all the time who do not follow the rules.”
  • “He is highly critical.”
  • “He is overly obsessed with details.”
  • “No one likes him.”
  • “He has too many processes and procedures.”
  • “He makes people work long hours.”
  • “He holds meetings at inconvenient times.”

This person ultimately quit working for Jobs because he:

  • Wanted to get paid as much as possible for working as little as possible.
  • Wanted to apply himself as little as possible.
  • Wanted to feel important for what he had done in the past (without being responsible for adding value now).
  • Did not want to be questioned or criticized.

In every job you will ever have – whether you are working for someone else or for yourself—you are dealing with the “principle of exchange”. You will get paid and rewarded to the degree you provide others more value than you expect in return. The more value you provide, the more successful you will be. But you must provide value and you must provide more value than others do.

Why do you think someone like Jobs was so fanatical about details and expecting perfection? Simple. He understood that in order to succeed he needed to provide more value than others.

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I’ve met lots of extremely successful people – and even more people who know lots of extremely successful people. Almost without exception, the most successful people out there (the ones you’ve heard of) work the hardest, apply themselves the most and provide far more value to others than they take. 

They are all about providing more value than they expect in return.  They are also disliked and criticized by those not interested in providing as much value as possible.

The desire to provide as much value as possible is the single defining characteristic of every extremely successful person I have ever studied. Conversely, the desire to provide as little value as possible is the defining characteristic of every unsuccessful person I have ever observed and worked with. I hope you understand this point. If you understand this and nothing more you will realize how clear it is that you are 100% in control of your destiny.

Since working for Jobs, this man has bounced around for over the past 20 years and has had a relatively unsuccessful career. He does freelance work and occasionally holds a job for a year or two – but generally things do not work out for him because he expects to get more than he gives.

The guy is angry and cannot hold a job – but it is very simple to see why: 

Most people who are unemployed, cannot hold jobs, and are not making the incomes they want are in this position simply because they provide less value to their employers than they take.  They take long breaks, are not focused when they are working, do not apply themselves on projects, prioritize other things above their work, call in sick as much as they can, look for reasons to sneak out early and so forth. 

It is as simple as that.

People who work very hard, apply themselves and are focused almost always throw off far more value than they take. These people rarely lose jobs or are unemployed very long. Why would they be? They are providing more value than they are being paid.

Jobs constantly questioned everything and obsessed over all sorts of details because he knew that this was something he had to do in order to ensure his products provided more value than similar products in the market. He had also been fired from Apple before and knew he had to perform or he would lose his job (and his legacy) again. He knew that if people were going to give his company money, his products had to provide more value than competing products. He expected his employees to bring the same level of focus to their work.

Don’t you see that it is all about providing value? In your relationships, jobs and so forth you must provide more value than you take. Businesses too must provide more value than they take. This is all that matters. It is one of the most important rules of life.

I’ve always had an obsession with new automobiles that have been manufactured (but improved each year) for decades. I went to a high school filled with the kids of important auto executives. When I was about 18 years old, the President of Volkswagen at the time gave me a ride in a new Corvette that the President of a General Motors division had brought over to his house during some school event. As we were driving he said something to me I will never forget:

Germans keep improving and refining the same car year after to year to make it better and better.  Americans just produce an entirely new car each year and never improve the old one. That’s why their cars are so bad – they never stick with something long enough to make it as good as it can be.”

I thought this was interesting, the idea that the longer you work on something the better it will ultimately get. It is like this with careers. Many people jump around from job to job and never get good at one thing. Others do this with relationships with people. Companies do this with their products.

Cars such as Porsche 911’s and Mercedes G-Wagons don’t look much different today than they did 30+ years ago; however, everything is constantly improved each year and the cars just continue to get better and better. The engines, brakes and so forth are improved year after year. Small parts of the car are tinkered with to make them better. Everything is questioned each year – the seats, the sound of the engine and so forth.

The manufacturers just keep taking the vehicles closer and closer to what they perceive as “perfection”. Each year the cars get a little bit better. Because they keep providing more and more value for each car, the manufacturers are able to keep a model in production far longer than other automakers – and they make more money and have better reputations as a consequence.

When your goal is to do something as well as it can be done, you provide more value than your competitors and succeed at a higher level than them. You stay in business. You do not get laid off or lose your job. You succeed.

My former employee worked for Jobs before Apple came out with products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad. He saw Jobs as a “terrorist” of sorts – always dressing down his subordinates, demanding things be done a certain way and examining every single detail that most “normal” people would overlook. He took it seriously.

Jobs was concerned with detail and making the best possible product. He was not concerned with HIMSELF, material things, status and so forth: His single driving obsession was with creating the best possible products that he could.

Apple is now among the most valuable companies in the world. Look at what is possible when a company demands the best it can from its people and its products. Look at how it can grow.

At the headquarters of Toyota in Japan there are two pictures in the lobby: One is of the Founder of Toyota and the other is of W. Edwards Deming–an American statistician. Japanese cars used to have a reputation for terrible quality. Deming went to Japan in the 1950s and trained the Japanese on how to implement quality systems in their production – and question each process and procedure involved in making cars. He is now a national hero in Japan and credited with changing the entire industry there. He showed the Japanese how to provide more value than their competitors.

He first tried to train American automotive companies. This is the sort of thing he was told:

  • “We are making lots of money and do not need your help.”
  • “We have Harvard MBAs who know more about business than you do.”

When someone is trying to make something great, there are always going to be voices which resist change. The entire American automotive industry was almost crushed and put out of business because it refused to listen to Deming — it thought it was too good to do so. The only thing Deming was trying to show people was how to create more value. 

When societies, companies and individuals demand wealth and a good standard of living without concentrating on providing high levels of value in exchange, they set themselves up for massive problems and decline. 

Where a few people in a group do not provide high levels of value and production compared to others in the group, they depress the wealth and standard of living of everyone in the group. That is why people like the guy who worked for Jobs are so dangerous – they hurt the groups they are part of by not producing their fair share.

Everyone in every society is after money. Everyone in society has jobs and produces different things.  People want money because it buys the things that people do not produce themselves. The reason money is valuable is because it is scarce. Everyone wants money, but few people in society are willing to give value in exchange for what it takes to earn a lot of it. 

Many tricks are used to manipulate money. Governments and bankers play tricks with money – and so do individual employees working in various companies. 

I recently read a story about Herbalife and a speculator going around giving talks that the whole company is a Ponzi scheme. He is trying to make money off of the value of the stock of Herbalife going down and is calling it a Ponzi scheme to make money. He is manipulating the value of money.

Governments print and loan money to control its value and maximize their self-interest.

People often bill more hours to their employers than they actually work so that they are paid more money than the employer bargained for.

Governments, companies and individuals all lose credibility and destroy the willingness of people to do business with them (and hire them) when they manipulate the value they provide in exchange for money too much. The key to the long-term success of governments, businesses and individuals is not manipulating the value they provide in exchange for money. If any group or individual takes but does not give a fair value for what they take in exchange, they will fail.

The reason someone like Jobs (and his company) succeeded was because he gave in abundance. He made far superior products than his competitors and worked harder than others to produce value. As a consequence, his company grew and became the largest company in the world.

Each day I spend at least 30 minutes or so reading various business stories in the paper. Most business stories deal with the tension involved in whether or not enough value is being given for an exchange. A union may want its workers to do less work for more money. A business may go bankrupt because people are not buying its products because they are out of date or not good enough. It is all about exchange and the giving and taking of value.

And this brings me to you. 

If you are employed in an organization and working hard and not getting anywhere it may be because there is no one like Steve Jobs around demanding that everyone produce excess value. If you are around a bunch of people who are slacking off, wasting the company’s time and not producing the best possible products and services they can, you can be certain that this is costing you money and opportunity. If you are working with a group of people not giving their all, their lack of commitment is hurting the entire group.

I’ve been hearing stories for years about what a lousy company Yahoo! is. In fact, tech industry people are actually ashamed to say they work there. Up until recently, Yahoo! was allowing tons of its employees to work from home. Then the new CEO Marissa Mayer discovered that people working at home were not working as hard as those working in the office. The company actually had a policy that allowed people to reduce the amount of money the company was making because it was accepting decreased production from a substantial number of its employees.

In the realm of your job, you should be careful about the sort of leaders you are following and working for. If you are following someone who seeks popularity and allows others to slack off and pays them more than they are worth, then the company will likely fail in the end. You will not have a lot of opportunity to grow and prosper there. 

If you are working for someone who ignores and fails to promote the people who are producing the most and adding the most value and awards those who are not adding value, avoiding work and so forth – because he likes them or for other reasons – then the company will likely fail. You will not have a lot of opportunity to grow and prosper there.

In my company there was a guy that was recently let go who was full of big words and was brilliant at arguing how much work he did and how hard he worked. For years people kept telling me how little work this guy was doing and how little he produced. For whatever reason, I never saw the reality of this until his department underwent a thorough review. We started measuring the work he did very carefully and realized he was producing very little. He was someone who was depressing the standards of the group.

There are people like Steve Jobs, Marissa Meyer and all sorts of executives who upset people and are called all sorts of names. These people are genuinely doing one thing: They are trying to raise the standards of the group by demanding good production. If you want a future, you should do everything you can to work for people and groups with the highest standards possible and who have a culture of aggressive and continuous improvement.

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  • Sharon

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  • Sharon

    I have been trying to put in a comment but my post keeps getting rejected due to a technical problem. Is there another place I can send the comment?

  • Todd

    I doubt that the person supposedly hired who supposedly worked for Steve Jobs even exists.

  • Shannon

    Wow, wonder how you managed to figure out why this employee left Apple. Not like those are the kind of answers you give in a job interview. I guess you must be some kind of mind reader, huh?

    Steve Jobs was a prick, and so are you.

  • Brian J. Umholtz

    Watching people attempt to rectify this asshole’s reputation or balance it against their own perception of how to create new markets/products/ideas is continuously entertaining. Steve Jobs once fired Bill Gates for reverse engineering competing software before he himself did it and spent the rest of his life calling Gates a thief. There are better ways to live your life than parking in handicapped spaces in your Mercedes that doesn’t have a license plate.

  • Itdoesntgoaway

    Anecdotal nonsense.

  • Kevin McAvoy

    None of this little reminiscence changes the fact that Jobs was an asshole, or that Apple is a cult.

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