Oct 10

Does genius trump abuse?

Rotten-apple I must admit to being taken aback by the universal outpouring of grief, passion and adulation at the recent passing of Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs. It reminded me of the reaction that followed the passing of Michael Jackson and George Steinbrenner, respectively. I've added 'Jacko' and 'The Boss' to a list that includes Jobs because, frankly, all three were very, very bad guys.

Articles about Jobs and his abusive behavior were plentiful before he contracted pancreatic cancer (but curiously scarce since then). In fact, here are links to just five pieces from such reputable media outlets as Forbes, CNN.com and The London Daily Mail (insert links).

I'll let you read the full texts, but consider the following excerpts:

– Despite an estimated net worth of $7 billion, Jobs had NO public record of giving to charity.
– He and his board covered up his initial pancreatic cancer diagnosis for nine months, a totally unethical, if not illegal, stunt by the CEO of a huge, publicly-traded company.
– His factories regularly employed young teenagers and people below the legal working age of 16, made them work grueling hours and tried desperately to cover it all up.
– Jobs had two Apple security guards search the home of a San Francisco man and threatened him and his family with immigration trouble if he didn't return blueprints for a missing iPhone prototype.

But, that's just scratching the surface of a man who was clearly one of the all-time nasty leaders in the history of business. Consider these tidbits:

– Forbes named Jobs to their 'Bully Bosses Hall of Fame'.
– Jobs routinely parked his Mercedes in the handicapped parking space.
– He consistently reduced employees to tears and fired long-time subordinates in front of their peers, often after ridiculing them as “bozos”.
– He claimed personal credit for scores of ideas and patents that other Apple employees had invented.
– Stanford professor Robert Sutton said he was “…besieged with Steve Jobs stories” when he announced he was writing a book entitled, 'The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't'.
– Jobs always considered himself the smartest guy in the room, and Apple's employees and products were either “insanely great” or “shit”.
– Unhappy with a product called MobileMe, Jobs told the product development team, “You've tarnished Apple's reputation. You should hate each other for having let each other down.”

Two final tales:
– A former employee said of Jobs, ”No one greets him or says hi to him. Low-ranking employees are afraid of him. I remember him walking around the campus one time and groups of people in his way would just split and let him walk through.”
– Former Apple PR chief Laurence Clavere once told a colleague that before heading into a meeting with Jobs, she embraced the mindset of a bullfighter entering the ring. “I pretend I'm already dead.”

So, there you have it. Multiple examples from impeccable sources that Jobs was arguably one of the worst human beings to ever lead a global organization. And, yet, the fawning, hagiographic profiles completely dominate the media and paint Jobs as some sort of Thomas Edison/Mother Theresa hybrid.  Is that because:

– The media really is a pale imitation of its former self, and balanced, objective reporting simply no longer exists?

– Or does genius totally trump abusive and unethical behavior? Are we willing to turn a blind eye to one man's endless record to inhumanity to his fellow man and paint him as a god because of his genius?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, you won't catch me dropping off a bouquet of flowers at the nearest Apple store or lighting a candle in his memory. I'm more likely to quote the classic line from 'The Wizard of Oz' and sing: “Ding dong the Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!”

Apr 28

Books are the training weights of the mind

April 28 - Books That's not my quote. It was written by Epictetus sometime around the year 99AD.

Thanks to a suggestion by RepMan, Jr., I just read 'The Art of Living,' a summary of the words and writings of Epictetus, a long forgotten, but highly influential Stoic. Ho hum, right? Wrong. While he may have been waxing poetic some 2,000 years ago, the Stoic's words are spot on for dealing with the oh-so-many nightmares of modern-day living. I won't belabor his many and most excellent points, but Epictetus is all about understanding what's important in life and what isn't. He's also all about dealing with life's many curveballs in a, well, stoical, kind of way. He's also all about happiness, the pursuit of which seems further away than ever. Get the book. It'll change the way you look at things.

Here are some other quick recommendations:

'The Thunderbolt Kid,' by Bill Bryson (one of my favorite authors). This is laugh out loud grist for any Baby Boomer who grew up with the Dick and Jane reading books, 'Father knows best' and grammar school janitors who looked like Richard Speck (Bryson's words, not mine. And shame on you if you don't know who Speck was or what he did).

'1453' is a Zara Lintin-recommended book that, in the re-telling the story of the fall of Constantinople also provides perspective on the ageless war between fundamental Christianity and its doppelganger, fundamental Islam. It also depicts torture tactics that make waterboarding seem like a walk in the park.

Outliers'  is another Malcolm Gladwell home run. I loved it. In essence, it explains why people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the Beatles became successful. Success, says Gladwell, goes far beyond talent and perspiration and can be ascribed to everything from the month of the year in which one is born, the year in which one is born, the amount of hours one is able to commit to becoming proficient in one's future craft, and stuff like that. The book also gave me a whole new way of looking at brainstorming which we've begun to incorporate at Peppercom.

I love reading, and typically I read three or four books at a time. But, lest that sound boastful, allow me to end with a quote from Epictetus on the subject of reading: 'Don't just say you've read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. (They) are the training weights of the mind.'

Ya gotta love it.

Sep 07

A Job(s) well done

Steve Jobs’ letter of explanation to iPhone owners outraged by Apple’s decision to slash the high-profileJobs
product’s retail price by some $200 was classic crisis communications 101.

In the text attached, Jobs explained why the price was cut, suggested ways in which he’d make it up to everyone who had stood in lines and paid full fare a few months back and also gave a quick primer on the realities of life in the tech sector’s fast lane. It was brief, but comprehensive; blunt yet empathetic.

The Jobs letter should be studied by CEOs everywhere as a classic example of crisis response: it’s rare and refreshing these days to see a leader who actually leads by example.

Thanks to Brendan Mullin for the idea.