Essay Cove

Essay Cove

Understanding PeopleSteve Jobss Personality

This case is based on an interview of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the author of Jobss biography. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in his parents garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, returned to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997, and by the time he died, in October 2011, had built it into the worlds most valuable company. Along the way he helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing. . . .

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing an array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, hed finally had enough. Stop! he shouted. This is crazy. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company. Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do, he told me. Thats true for companies, and its true for products.

Focus was ingrained in Jobss personality and had been honed by his Zen training. He relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions. Colleagues and family members would at times be exasperated as they tried to get him to deal with issues they considered important. But he would give a cold stare and refuse to shift his laser-like focus until he was ready. . . .

Jobss (in)famous ability to push people to do the impossible was dubbed by colleagues as his Reality Distortion Field, after an episode of Star Trek in which aliens create a convincing alternative reality through sheer mental force. An early example was when Jobs was on the night shift at Atari and pushed Steve Wosniak to create a game called Breakout. Woz said it would take months, but Jobs stared at him and insisted he could do it in four days. Woz knew that was impossible, but he ended up doing it.

Those who did not know Jobs interpreted the Reality Distortion Field as a euphemism for bullying and lying. But those who worked with him admitted that the trait, infuriating as it might be, led them to perform extraordinary feats. Because Jobs felt that lifes ordinary rules didnt apply to him, he could inspire his team to change the course of computer history with a small fraction of the resources that Xerox or IBM had. It was a self-fulfilling distortion, recalls Debi Coleman, a member of the original Mac team who won an award one year for being the employee who best stood up to Jobs. You did the impossible because you didnt realize it was impossible.

During the development of almost every product he ever created, Jobs at a certain point hit the pause button and went back to the drawing board because he felt it wasnt perfect. That happened even with the movie Toy Story. After Jeff Katzenberg and the team at Disney, which had bought the rights to the movie, pushed the Pixar team to make it edgier and darker, Jobs and the director, John Lasseter, finally stopped production and rewrote the story to make it friendlier. When he was about to launch Apple Stores, he and his store guru, Ron Johnson, suddenly decided to delay everything a few months so that the stores layouts could be reorganized around activities and not just product categories. . . .

Jobs was famously impatient, petulant, and tough with the people around him. His treatment of people, though not laudable, emanated from his passion for perfection and his desire to work with only the best. It was his way of preventing what he called the bozo explosion, in which managers are so polite that mediocre people feel comfortable sticking around. I dont think I run roughshod over people, he said, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face, Its my job to be honest. . . Its important to appreciate that Jobss rudeness and roughness were accompanied by an ability to be inspirational. He infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create ground breaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible.


Manning, George. The Art of Leadership. Available from: Bookshelf, (7th Edition). McGraw-Hill Higher Education (US), 2021.



1. How would you evaluate Steve Jobs in terms of cardinal disposition, central tendencies, and secondary traits?

2. How would you evaluate Jobs in terms of interpersonal styletraditional, participative, and individualistic?

3. How would you evaluate Jobs in terms of the Big Five personality traitsopenness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism?

4. Do you think Jobss personality influenced Apple employees in a positive 

or negative way?


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