Tag Archives: Steve Jobs

LSS: Here’s to magical thinking all around

Many who have written about Steve Jobs in the weeks since his passing have referenced his so-called magical thinking.
According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson’s 60 Minutes interview, and others who worked with Jobs as he transformed the world through technology, Jobs wasn’t always a nerdy nice guy. He was demanding—unreasonably so, in fact. He set irrational deadlines and insisted they be met. He asked for too much too fast. And somehow, as if by magic, his teams would meet the deadlines they themselves didn’t believe they could meet. Time and time again, he decreed it would be so—and it was, to everyone else’s surprise.
Jobs believed he was special. In a vicious cycle sort of way, determining whether he was special because he believed he was special or because he really was special is difficult. Either way, his set of beliefs worked all sorts of magic in the world around him.
Think about it.
Even five years ago, most of us wouldn’t have believed the things an iphone can do or the ways it would change how so many of us live. Even though everyone doesn’t use an iphone (and, yes, other apparati now have similar capabilities), the technology of the tiny handheld device has transformed the way we do things.
For example, this week my older daughter and I have traipsed around New England. We rented a car in Boston, and made stops in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We were doing one of my favorite things—going places I’ve never gone before. As we’ve gone from state to state, from one specific address to another, we have never once referenced what I consider to be a bonafide map. We just used our phone. Granted, it did lead us to a strange back entrance on the wrong street at one of our stops, but other than that tiny indiscrepancy, we made record time from one city to town and back again. The whole exercise felt a little like our own version of The Amazing Race.
Granted, Jobs didn’t do most of the work required to build the gadget, but he did have the vision, didn’t he? In its own way, the small invention Jobs inspired is magic, in large part due to his personal magic in motivating others. He pushed himself and the people around him. He was a true leader—and maybe that’s part of why he resonated so deeply with society. Yes, he was temperamental, demanding and unflinching. However, he believed in himself—in his own magic.
If a few more of us believed in our own magic, just think what we could accomplish.
Sadly and in the end, Jobs’ greatness contributed to his demise. In a paradox worthy of a Shakespearian character, Jobs’ magical thinking ability eventually became his great character flaw. According to Isaacson, when Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 by chance during a scan looking for kidney stones, he opted not to have the surgery doctors recommended.
Unlike the vast majority of pancreatic cancers, the specific type Jobs had was treatable. Surgeons could have removed it.
Jobs decided to treat it in a more homeopathic style. He believed he could beat it.
Nine months later when he finally allowed doctors to attempt to remove the cancer, the disease had spread. Jobs had a liver transplant, but never fully recovered—even though he lived nearly eight years post-diagnosis and achieved much during that time.
The irony of his life and death is not lost—and as with any extreme character trait, walking that fine line of reigning in a character trait before it goes too far is complicated and risky. However, Jobs was right about so many things—about his products and how people would use them and be transformed by them. What if he’d been right about the cancer treatment? Yes, that decision turned out to be a big mistake, but without risk comes no knowledge from mistakes.
If he wouldn’t have been the way he was, which includes living the way he lived and dying the way he died, he wouldn’t have done what he did.
And for that, the world is a better place.