If I Were a Genius…

December 2, 2011

It’s pretty well impossible to deny it.

Steve Jobs personally affected my life, and yours.  I’m pretty sure they’re going to change the calendar from A.D. to A.S., or After Steve.  Postmodern society will now give way to post-steveism.

I check my blogs on my iPhone (which I finally purchased in July.)  But he didn’t just change how a few people read blogs or listen to music.  The man changed entire industries.  If he were living a century ago, he’d have built a steel or oil conglomerate.

So, like millions of other people, I thought I might like to read about the man behind the machines.  I downloaded the sample of the Walter Isaacson bio, ironically, on my Kindle.

And after a couple of hours, I’m not so sure I want to spend 700 pages with the man.  I mean, really.  From the time he was a third grader, the guy was a jerk.  I’m not going to rehash what most of us have already heard tidbits of.  But he was not a people person, and he was enabled from the earliest age by his parents to develop a superiority complex and mistreat everyone, including his parents, children and employees.  And what kind of a guy hires his own biographer?

It just makes me wonder.  If I was a genius, what could I get away with?

If Not For the Toys…

I was listening to an interview with Walter Isaacson yesterday.  He called Jobs a visionary and an innovator, and said, “that’s the kind of person we need in our society.”

Really?  That’s all we’re looking for?  New shiny stuff?

It must be.  Because no one would be singing Jobs’ praises after his death, except for the fact that he left us all a bunch of cool toys to play with.

He’s like Santa Claus.  Really, would anyone actually admire a man who annually broke into their house, ate their cookies and farted on their easychairs, if he didn’t leave a crapload of toys for them?  I doubt it.

I’m a Genius.  I Don’t Have Time to Be a Decent Human Being.  

If there’s one thing I don’t get, even though I’m guilty of it, it’s hoping that a celebrity is a “nice guy.”  Everyone makes a big deal out of a celebrity who doesn’t treat fans like dog poop.  Guess what?  Celebrities are supposed to be nice to people!  They make millions of dollars for incredibly easy work.  People whose lives are a never ending stream of sucktitude are still expected to be nice.

Giving celebrities credit for being nice is like giving parents credit for feeding their kids, or giving credit to a surgeon for actually amputating the correct foot.  You don’t get credit for doing something that you’re supposed to do.  Have our standards fallen so low that “being nice” is some kind of lofty, God-like virtue?

The funny thing is, I’m still willing to forgive celebrities for being jerks because I like their movies.  And if Thomas Edison or George Washington had been jerks (and who knows, they might have been), we’d still forgive them because they invented light bulbs and America.  We all write people a pass when they give us something we really want.

You Can’t Afford It

You and I are not geniuses.  Therefore, we can’t afford to be jerks to everyone we meet.  We can’t just cover up our glaring personality flaws by handing out trinkets.

We can’t afford to treat everyone as inferiors.

We can’t afford to yell at people who aren’t as good as us.

We can’t afford to make up our own rules.

We can’t afford to disregard everyone else.

We can’t do these things because you and I have never done anything that could cover such a multitude of sins.  Have you ever met anyone who decided to boycott Apple because their boss was a jerk?  Heck no!  Apple customers are like a cult.  It wouldn’t matter if Steve Jobs personally insulted every customer to their face as they walked into an Apple store.  They’d still pay too much for Apple’s computers, and thank them for it.  He wealth of goodwill from people dwarfed his financial fortune, and was so vast that he could treat people badly and still die a hero.

What do you think our society really needs?  Do we need people who “innovate,” at the expense of everything else?  Or do we need humble geniuses, compassionate innovators, and quiet revolutionaries?  What famed person is really worthy of your admiration?

29 responses to If I Were a Genius…

  1. Hi Matt,

    Give the famous time.

    Give ’em time.

    “My name is Ozmandias, King of kings,
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”.
    –Percy Shelly


  2. The fact is that our culture is utilitarian. We have use for people as long as they provide something for us in return.

    Everyone wanted to crucify Michael VIck, then we give him a second chance and everyone cheers. You think if he sucked at football now, that people wouldn’t want him to go back to jail? That’s just the way the world works.

    That’s where we have the opportunity as Christians to change the game. But we have to live it in our own lives before we start touting our grace and second chance messages to the world.

    Can we really love, forgive and give second chances to people that don’t deserve it? Because ultimately, none of us do.

  3. I feel like your questions at the end are trying to force us to answer, “No, we don’t need innovator jerks like Steve Jobs, we need more humble innovators.”

    There’s a supervisor here and everybody thinks she’s a serious B. She’s very cold in her business tactics but guess what? That’s how you get people to get stuff done sometimes. I understand this when I was in my early college years as a shift manager at a Taco Bell. You couldn’t be people’s friend during work. It was work time not buddy buddy time. So I wasn’t a people person during my shifts. I was there to work.

    On a personal level, that same supervisor is very warm and kind. We all wear different faces even though we’re one person. I’m guessing that’s probably true of Steve Jobs.

    I’m going to have to pick up the bio and check it out. Steve Jobs probably was a jerk and pushed people. But would we have the iPhone if he didn’t push the limits?

    People probably thought Steve was the biggest dummy for not implementing Flash on the iPad and iPhone but now? Flash is going the way of the buffalo and HTML 5 is going to be king. There were certain things he saw and knew.

    I’m not sticking up for being a jerk. But I think in business you have to be stern and serious. It’s not just about being nice, kind, and humble. It’s about getting the work done and seeing your vision come to fruition. It comes down to wearing a different hat at different times and ultimately knowing and understanding that we’re working for God.

  4. Celebrities, like all of us, need to be nice to people. But the fact is, if you’re talented and/or rich you just don’t have the same social pressures as the rest of the human race.Let’s face it: the only reason many of us don’t eat each other to get ahead in life is due to social pressure. Yes, we all should all be nice anyway but I think of it like a child cleaning his or her room when he or she doesn’t have to. It’s worth recognizing because it shows decency. It helps us “common” folk to think “If I ever become famous I hope I’d be like that.” And maybe pointing out the ” humble geniuses, compassionate innovators, and quiet revolutionaries” is the key to solving the problem. I’m sure they exist; let’s throw them a party.

  5. I met Steve Jobs in 1994 in Boston. There were about 40 of us at a focus group pushing for Apple to adopt Next; Steve’s Linux operating system. He was a jerk, BUT he could see what Apple couldn’t.

    Good for business.

    As a musician, I used to meet some of the big names when I was buying guitars in NYC. From George Harrison to Eddie Van Halen, they were all there. I also worked backstage at the New Haven Coliseum for all sorts of bands from The Who to Alice Cooper. Some were cool, and some were jerks.

    Personally, I hate groupies and celebrity worshipers.

    In the end people are people. My roommate at music school was a guitarist for a band that had a #1 song on the charts; the tune still plays in elevators and on classic rock stations. He was a great player – way better than me. And we were still friends until his death in 1999. One day he asked me to do a guitar solo on one of his solo projects!?!?! I worked on those 40 seconds for weeks, but I did it. He always encouraged me, always made me laugh at myself, and I learned more from him than I did in 4 years of college.

    He would have made a great Christian.

  6. People will admire, adore, and worship anything to which they assign value. Steve Jobs had value. People love their gadgets, and people loved the gadget maker. If you assign ultimate value and worth to an object, person, or experience that will ultimately become your affection and the focus of your worship.

    Society needs more people, famous and unknown, who DEFLECT value (humility) and reassign it to where it really belongs. Our society needs more deflectors.

  7. Couple of things–

    When you say “Celebrities are supposed to be nice to people” because “they have incredibly easy work”, I don’t think Steve Jobs is a good example to use here. Sure, he was famous. But we’re not talking about someone who was famous for acting like a dork on reality TV–this guy was famous for designing the stinking iPod–I wouldn’t call that “easy work”, would you? (My sister, who relies heavily on the iPad that she uses in her classroom would hardly call it a “toy”, BTW.)

    Also, I was reminded of something else.

    I’m a doctor, and when I was a resident doing my ICU rotation, there was this attending that everyone lived in fear of. He was really a bit of a jerk–terse, perfectionistic, perfectly willing to bite a resident’s head off in front of everyone if they missed some little detail on rounds. He made me cry on a couple of occasions, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

    Later on, though, when a bunch of us were sitting around talking about him, one of my friends admitted that if his mother were in the ICU, he would’ve felt more comfortable having Dr. Mean taking care of her than one of our more touchy-feely attendings with a better bedside manner. I had to admit that I agreed with him on that. I learned a heck of a lot more from that guy than I did from some of the “nicer” docs.

    “Being nice” is all well and good, but there are times when you need Dr. House to get things done.

  8. Well said John!

    However, I am pretty famous myself Matt. Tens of people read my blog every day…

  9. I don’t care if geniuses are jerks, or flamboyant gays, or purple dinosaurs. I want them to provided jobs and be productive members of society. I think there is a big difference between a celebrity and a innovator. Also, some things seem jerk-like to some people and not to others. For example, most geniuses are hyper focused in the one are of their genius. This may seem jerk-like to those not as interested in that area. All this being said, it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. And if that is all you have to contribute to society, for God’s sake, be nice.

  10. People are people, and jerks are jerks. 20 years ago, my bride-to-be worked as a waitress in a specialty coffee and dessert shop. She often commented that the worst jerks were those from a higher “station” in life (yeah..a southern term). Doctors, Lawyers and the like treated their dinner guests and the staff at the restaurant as being beneath them.

    I too worked with the public for many years and noted the same thing.

    I’m not sure why some people choose to be this way. Yes, it’s a choice. How we treat others is a choice we make based on our perceptions (and insecurities) of ourselves, biases and life experiences.

    One simple rule that I follow is: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”

    You can substitute anybody for the “waiter” in the above maxim – spouse, child, ticket agent, admin assistant, etc.

  11. There is a great book called The No Asshole Rule, it’s about management but also applies to life. This book includes Steve Jobs as an “asshole”, but also as the exception to most other assholes in that people still wanted, really wanted, to work not only with but for him.

    I surmise that the difference is intention. Sometimes we are all jerks, accidentally. And some people, you may know a few, look like jerks to some people, but you know they aren’t. Why? Because they don’t mean to hurt people, they want what’s right, they just aren’t as good at, well, sugar coating it.

    Is that an excuse? Maybe. I’ve been accused of being “too nice” on many occasions, both personal and business. If that goes down on my epitaph I’m ok with that. But, I also find that means that people are nicer to me than other’s feel they are nice to them. Does that make sense? I don’t know if it’s because I assume people are nice, so to me it seems they are. Or if my naiveté actually makes them nicer to me. Who knows?

    Sorry about the rant. I guess my point to your point is, who are you going to trust on how “good” someone you don’t know is? And what is the motivation behind telling, hearing, and dare I say? judging, someone else’s niceness.


    Also, I’m angry that Steve Jobs is dead. I think he did do his best for the world. He loved his family, he worked really hard to stay alive and in the end, he left too soon.

  12. I actually boycotted apple products while Steve was alive. As much as I wanted an iPhone, I wouldn’t let myself get one because I didn’t like him as a person. It was only after he passed away that I got myself an iPad. In the greater scheme of things I’m sure it didn’t matter – Steve couldn’t care less hether I liked him or not…he still had a big cult following that was willing to buy everything he put out.

    Having said all that, I respect Steve’s genius and his work ethic and his mind. I would have loved to see what he came up with next.

  13. Washington invented America? Hahahahahaha.

    Household name: Billy Graham.
    Worthy of admiration: Billy Graham.
    Except for a few questionable comments that he made in the 60’s about Jews (taken out of context); he is above reproach.

  14. I read the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs and was amazed to learn what a jerk he was. He wasn’t just a little bit of a jerk, he seemed to be a genuinely mean person who went out of his way to do the opposite of the right thing. Even his friends commented that if you asked him for a favor he would do the opposite. Unfortunately, this quality may have been part of what made him so successful as an innovator. He thought he was smarter and better than everyone else and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was always convinced he could see the problem differently than everyone else. It’s not enough to be smart, but maybe you have to be smart in an iconoclastic way that constantly makes you challenge everyone else’s preconceived ideas.

  15. I read the book and I thought it was great. Steve Jobs was a huge jerk but I think it had some validity to it. I don’t support everything our military does, but we do produce some of the best soldiers in the world (minus Geneva limitations and such). How do we produce such great soldiers? The military hires people to be complete jerks, drill sergeants, to the soldier. The things said by the drill sergeants has no validity or reason other than to push the trainees to be their very best.
    Sure, the drill sergeants are usually just putting on a face while Steve Jobs’ personality was actually one of a jerk. But, it’s that jerk that allowed him to push people to design what he wanted them to design. Once people understood how he thought, they wouldn’t show him a product idea until they thought it met his qualifications. Just like the military, one must give 110% all the time or else he or she is seen as completely worthless.
    I don’t think being a jerk is a good quality but sometimes it brings the best out of others. Some people are jerks. Steve was a jerk, a leader, and was good at was he did, which produced unparalleled innovations. To yield a powerful group of people in any setting (business, military, et cetera) one must either be a Steve Jobs or a Google, which promotes creativity via a relaxed setting. Both types only take the best through a weeding out process, but how their employees are treated differs, both have produced some great products (the variances after this are because of open/fragmented versus closed/integrated).
    Hopefully that didn’t seem too fan-boy-ish. I didn’t try to be. haha

  16. We are all varying degrees of diamonds and doo-doo. I love Ryan’s comment about deflecting value (humility). The things we are really good at, our talents, are really given to us at birth by our Creator. Why should we be overwhelmingly proud of something that we didn’t generate, but merely cultivated? I think the ones who are most like diamonds do the most deflecting.

    I used to think Albert Einstein was my hero, until I found out that he cheated on his wife and left her for a younger woman. His wife helped him a LOT in developing his theory of relativity by reviewing his writing and raising their kids with minimal help while he worked on it on the side. Once he gets famous for it, he trades her in for a newer model?

    My husband is my worldly hero. Most of the time.

    Of course we know, class what the right answer to the question of who our hero SHOULD be, don’t we? Should it be….Jesus?

  17. We need more compassion revolutionaries, more little Christs, something that will outlast time itself (Matthew 24:35).
    But I don’t mean people that roam the streets offering “free hugs.” We need authenticity, people that love because He first loved us.
    All the shiny toys will be gone someday. Could even be sooner than all the iPhone users expect, who knows but God. What will never, ever be lacking is people who genuinely LOVE.

  18. Matt, I’m reminded of the rich young ruler. He knew there was more, but couldn’t give it up because he had so much. The same genius and abilities that propel us forward can also trap us into a life of selfishness and ambition. I guess that’s why it’s a little easier for us who aren’t geniuses, powerful, influential, etc. And incredibly, God still does the impossible through us and He gets the glory.

  19. Way to shoot straight, Matt.

    “You don’t get credit for doing something that you’re supposed to do.”

    I’ve also wondered why jerkface behavior is tolerated in celebrities in business or entertainment. The one that really gets me is when church “icons” are pricks. Didn’t they read the part about the Pharisees?

  20. A note on celebrity.

    Kim Kardashian, Oprah Winfrey and Louis Farrakhan (scary thought, really) are the latest celebrities to sweep through Haiti.

    Rarely do they ever stay more than a couple of days. And in Haiti, that’s just not enough to have any knowledge, really. It’s just a boost to your celebritiness.

    Giving credit where it’s due, Sean Penn, though I was never fond of him personally, or as an actor, has done an amazing work here. He oversees everything in a particular tent city, and helps the people move on to better living conditions. When he comes, he actually stays in ‘his’ tent city. Yeah, really.

    So, a big woot-woot for Sean. But he still needs the gospel as far as I can tell. Maybe we’ll cross paths one day. Who knows.