Steve Jobs: Bully. Cry-Baby.

I knew Steve Jobs was a visionary. What I didn’t know was that he was such a cry-baby

I knew Steve Jobs was a visionary. What I didn’t know was that he was such a cry-baby.

It’s one revelation of Walter Isaacson’s biography that hasn’t gotten much attention since the book hit the best-seller list a few weeks ago.

Along with the bullying, the angry outbursts, the moments of epiphany, the parking in the Handicapped spot –Jobs’s penchant for waterworks is striking. 

Every time he experiences a setback or a bad outcome, he weeps. He cries over employees ditching. He cries over losing in a negotiation. He cries over his team missing deadlines.

Page 202: Jobs is pushed out of Apple, the company he founded, and the board declines to back him instead of CEO John Sculley. “He went back to his office, gathered his longtime loyalists on the Macintosh staff, and started to cry.” 

Page 206: “Jobs realized there was no appeal, no way to warp the reality. He broke down in tears and started making phone calls…. “ A sentence later he breaks into an international call of marketing chief Mike Murray, “crying. ‘It’s over.’”

Jobs weeps throughout this tome.

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Page 352, Jobs learns that there is a CD tray in the iMac, not a slot: “What the f— is this?” he rails.  “Jobs’s fury didn’t abate. ‘I almost started crying, because it was too late to do anything about it.’”

Then one paragraph later, Jobs is in tears, sniffling:  “’I’m only going to go ahead with the launch if you promise me we’re going to go to slot mode as soon as possible.’”

Page 442: Disney agrees to buy Pixar. Jobs announces the deal to John Lasseter and Ed Catmull. They accepted. “They all hugged, and Jobs wept.”

What’s more, his crying seems infectious. Sculley cries as his relationship with Jobs breaks down (p. 199). John Lasseter cries over the idea of Disney creating a new “Toy Story” without Pixar. Bill Campbell – the he-man former football coach on Apple’s board –  “quavered” in his tone as he withdrew his support from Jobs.

(What’s with all these weepy Silicon Valley types? Here in Hollywood, they backstab and you bleed out. But not so much crying.)

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What is so fascinating about Jobs’s weepiness is not that it comes in the context of business situations. Clearly he was passionate about everything he did.

It’s more the fact that he felt sorry for himself even as he brutally undercut others who’d been good to him. He didn’t blink in denying an early collaborator options in Apple stock, though the individual clearly deserved them. He coldly denied Steve Wozniak, Apple’s cofounder, to use an Apple vendor in a new venture.

And as has been much discussed, he constantly berated and humiliated employees by telling them their work was “s—.”

Steve Jobs was a man who seemed to lack empathy. And yet he was unduly sensitive when the slings and arrows were aimed at him.  

Jony Ive, the brilliant designer who worked closely with Jobs, was clearly troubled by this strange duality.

“He’s a very, very sensitive guy,” Ive tells Isaacson. “That’s one of the things that makes his antisocial behavior, his rudeness, so unconscionable. I can understand why people who are thick-skinned and unfeeling can be rude, but not sensitive people…  Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that.”

To me, this doesn’t seem the sign of the 21st century evolved male. Jobs was the epitome of timeless, raw ambition combined with an unadultered drive for perfection. Instead it seems like something else, unhealthier.

“It gets back to the deep feeling of being rejected at an early age (by his birth parents),” Jobs friend and lawyer George Riley is quoted as saying. 

It could be. There’s something truly puzzling about it. It makes me wonder about the connection between tyrannical behavior and success. About the permission artists give themselves to take what they need, and ignore the collateral damage.

Let us stipulate that Steve Jobs was an artist, working in the context of technology and business. And as such, his unconventionality was part of his creative gift.

Is that sufficient to excuse this contradiction? And could Steve Jobs have created Apple and changed the world as he set out to do without it?