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Was Steve Jobs Really that Creative?

June 7, 2013

Task: study a creative person. So who was the first person I thought of? Steve Jobs.  Steve Jobs influenced Apple, Pixar, Disney, and the millions of us that use their products.  Apple made one of the biggest turnarounds in business ever.  But was Steve Jobs really that creative?  I am not so sure anymore.  Here are some of the interesting facts that I found as I browsed his huge Wikipedia article and some other websites.

1. What about their environment enabled them to be so creative?

  • Steve started tinkering with electronics early (deliberate practice)
  • His caligraphy class influenced Apple to use multiple fonts
  • He traveled to India and learned about Zen Buddhism, which contributed to many cross-cultural ideas
  • He lived in the 60s–enough said.
  • He experienced LSD in India, which he said influenced him.  I think LSD would change anyone.

2. Describe how their mind and thinking process works.

  • He was influenced by Zen Buddhism and India.
  • He thought about design, not just creating a product.
  • Steve stuck to deadlines.  A phrase he was known for was “real artists ship.”

3. What personal characteristics contribute to their creativity?

  • Jobs had a cut throat personality, he was more than willing to fire people (and was avoided by employees because of it).
  • He was a perfectionist.
  • He was a persuasive salesman for the company.
  • He was loved and hated (even to the point that he got thrown out of his own company–Apple).

4. What barriers did they have to overcome? Did the constraints help or hinder their creativity? How?

  • Being kicked out of his own company became the best “medicine” for him (cited by three articles in Wikipedia)

5. What is their best piece of advice in encouraging others to be more creative?

6. What did they create (what was the product of their creativity)? How can you know this was creative?

  • iPhone
  • iMac
  • Proponent of Mouse
  • Software (NeXT)
  • Is there any doubt that these products were creative?  Did he actually create them though?

7. Were they born creative? Or did they develop it?

  • I would say that everyone develops it.

On paper, Steve Jobs looks very creative.  But how much did he really develop. Wikipedia again cited an interview with an Apple employee that stated, “Daniel Kottke, one of Apple’s earliest employees and a college friend of Jobs’, stated that ‘Between Woz and Jobs, Woz was the innovator, the inventor. Steve Jobs was the marketing person.'”  He may not have been as creative as people gave him credit.

This may go to show that being creative is only one piece of the puzzle.  We have to get our ideas out there.  Ideas are only worth something if they reach people.

From a psychological perspective, some of Steve Jobs’ traits may point to a lower amount of empathy.  He did not mind hurting people to make things happen.  An article I read recently in Psychology Today talked about how many leaders of businesses are psychopaths.  Psychopaths have low levels of empathy and do not mind hurting people to get what they want.  Steve Jobs may not qualify as a psychopath, but his cut-throat traits created a powerful salesman heading innovative companies.  Wikipedia did point out that he influenced some of his designs, but influencing people was his true talent.

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