In a memorable scene in “Kingsmen,” Colin Firth says: “Manners maketh man…” He was stressing on the importance of courtesy and politeness. But an article a few days ago highlighted another aspect of the quote.
Manners also maketh imitators.
All of us have role models and idols. And it’s nice to have them. They inspire us to greater achievements, spur us on. But ever so often, they also make us shallow clones of themselves. For the easiest way to be like your hero is to imitate them in manner – dress like them, act like them, copy their accents and gestures. For instance, when I was at school, I used to idolize tennis legend, John McEnroe. I used to wear a headband as he did, toss tantrums and throw my racquet around like he did, even use similar expressions of frustration and irritation. The one thing I did not do like him was what really defined him.
When I lost (and I often did, else I would be preparing for Roland Garros, instead of writing this), did I blame John McEnroe? No, for no matter how much I tried to imitate him in manner and appearance, I knew that at the end of the day, John McEnroe was about tennis – majestic, artistic tennis – and not just a type of jersey, a headband or a particular way of walking and talking.
So when I read an article a few days ago about how Silicon Valley had “paid the price” for idolizing Steve Jobs, I could not but help but essay a wry smile.
For, the stark fact is that if people had “really” idolized Steve Jobs, Apple should have been in massive trouble, because then ANY company could have been as good as it is. It should have been raining innovative products instead of “me too” clones. At the very least, we could have had better product launch presentations.
Just like John McEnroe is not merely a temper, a headband, and a jersey, Steve Jobs is not just jeans and a black turtleneck and ability to be pushy and rude. The problem is that far too many people – be it in Silicon Valley or even in India – seem to think that Jobs succeeded because of his tempestuous nature, his ability to intimidate people at times and his penchant for insulting colleagues… in short, to borrow a line from the article in question, by “being an a**hole.”
Was Jobs an “a**hole”? That is a story for another day, perhaps. But what cannot be doubted is that he could be incredibly rude and insulting. Some his colleagues (Steve Wozniak, most significantly) have documented his harsh manner. Yes, as his biographers have pointed out, those who could weather his tempestuous ways, did emerge stronger in the long run, but no doubt, Apple lost a lot of talented people because of their co-founder’s behavior.
I just have one question to ask: was that all Jobs was? Bad manners, temper, rudeness? Was that all to the man?
If being an “a**hole” was all that was needed to come out with products like the Macintosh, the iPhone, and the iPod, it would be raining innovations. Also, was Jobs ill-mannered all the time? What of the famous “reality distortion field” and the charm, which many insist defined him as much, if not more, than his temper. I remember speaking to one of his colleagues in 2009, and he said “When he looked at you and said ‘can you do this for me?’, you knew you wanted to. You wanted to die for this guy who believed in you…” I interviewed the person who many say sacked Steve Jobs from Apple (mainly because of his eccentric behavior, incidentally) and he said that Jobs was “an engaging, humorous, emotional and a passionate perfectionist…a good person.” At one stage, he actually sighed as he said, “I miss the young Steve Jobs.”
Yes, the films about him have tended to highlight his dark side more often than his kinder, gentler one (and he had one if his friends are to be believed). And his biographers have referred to it too. But to think that Jobs was just bad manners, arrogance and bluster are like saying that the Taj Mahal is a pretty nifty tomb.
The man had vision. A sense of simplicity. A sense of products and what the consumers need in terms of the invention rather than innovation.
And truckloads of charm. He worked hard. He read and read and heard music and followed the arts… no one quite saw the world the way he did. He was not perfect. No one is. Yes, he stole ideas. Yes, he did many things that were wrong. But you know something? He got a lot of things right too. They are mentioned in those books about him, but hey, it takes hard work to do all that. It is a whole lot simpler to just act like a jerk and then claim that you are being like Steve Jobs, isn’t it?
Just like it was easy for a teenager to throw his racquet and scream “you cannot be serious” and claim he was just being like John McEnroe. It is never that easy.
Don’t blame Steve Jobs for Silicon Valley’s perceived poor leadership. Blame those who believe that Jobs was just a few bad manners that can be easily imitated.
Do you want to be like Steve Jobs? REALLY like Steve Jobs?
Forget the turtleneck. Forget the accent. Forget the temper. Forget the mannerisms.
Just remember two words: