Apple's founder and CEO could be a cruel and nasty guy. He was also the greatest chief executive of our time. Don't go thinking those two things are related.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Steve Jobs was a visionary, a brilliant innovator who reshaped entire industries by the force of his will, a genius at giving consumers not only what they wanted, but what they didn't yet know they wanted.
He was also a world-class asshole.
Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography of Jobs offers a revealing look at what the author has called "good Steve" and "bad Steve." Good Steve was brilliant, charismatic, a champion for excellence, an alchemist who turned a moribund computer company into gold. Bad Steve was petulant, rude, spiteful, and controlling, a man who thought nothing of publicly humiliating employees, hogging the credit for work he hadn't done, throwing tantrums when he didn't get his way, or parking his Mercedes in handicapped spots. For several years, he even denied the paternity of his daughter so that the child and her mother had to live on welfare.
The ease with which people can possess astonishingly contradictory qualities is one of the mysteries of human nature; indeed, it's one of the things that separates humans from, say, an Apple computer. Every one of the components that makes up an iPad is essential to the work it produces. Remove one part and the machine no longer performs its job, and not even the Genius Bar can fix it. But humans are full of qualities that are in no way integral to their functioning in the world. Some aspects of personality have little or no bearing on whether a person performs well, and not a few people succeed in spite of their darker qualities. You can be a genius and an asshole, but the two aren't necessarily causally linked. In fact, there's a strong body of evidence to suggest that there are plenty of assholes who aren't geniuses at anything other than ... being assholes.