An overview of Steve Jobs and Personality Influences
The late Steve Jobs was a pioneer in the personal computer revolution. Jobs is sometimes referred to as the “charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution” (Netflix, 2012). Job’s vision for the personal computer and how it would alter society was the foundation for Apple Incorporated which would ultimately become one of the most valuable companies in the world. Jobs was widely known as a visionary and a driven person but he was also considered maniacal and self-centered to the point of being vicious to others and lacking empathy (Netflix, 2012). The enigmatic character of Steve Jobs provides a fertile ground for analyzing the influences of personality and how it can define a person.
There is a tendency to examine individuals such as Jobs and assume that they were born with specific genetic factors such as being a genius. This tendency is erroneous in many instances because it gives a disproportionate amount of weight to the idea of heredity. This tendency is especially true in the case of individuals like Jobs who are involved in massive social and technical accomplishments. While Jobs may have been involved in the creation of Apple technologies, he was not the builder or coder but rather the driving force behind these accomplishments (Netflix, 2012). As a leader, Jobs was able to impart his vision of what computer technology should be like and motivate the individual workers to fulfill this vision. This capacity for leadership and vision is more likely the result of personality traits that developed Jobs's relentless drive towards perfection and actualization of ideas. Steve Jobs's personality allowed him to formulate attitudes and beliefs that would ultimately lead to his success as well as to his untimely demise.
Heredity and Environment
The heredity vs. environment or nature vs. nurture argument is often used to explain individuals such as Steve Jobs. People tend to think that of people such as Jobs in terms of being born with special aptitudes or abilities or having been nurtured in highly effective environments. These ideas have merit but they do not tell the complete story when analyzing individuals such as Jobs. The reason that this argument falls short is due to the limited view that it poses for nature and nurture impacts on the individual. The argument is flawed because it asks the wrong questions concerning nature vs nurture:
…how-much-of-it-is-genetic-and-how-much-of-it-is-the result-of-experience version is fundamentally flawed. The problem is that it is based on the premise that genetic factors and experiential factors combine in an additive fashion — that a behavioral capacity, such as intelligence, is created through the combination or mixture of so many parts of genetics and so many parts of the experience, rather than through the interaction of genetics and experience (J.P., 2011).
The flaw in this thinking is caused by the assumption that genetic dispositions or environment can create abilities. This may be true to some degree but Steve Jobs was also made successful due to his unique personality that was molded by both genetic and environmental forces. To look simply at Jobs's genetic dispositions or his environment ignores the essential components of his behavior. Pinel (2011), describes this as:
…all behavior is the product of interactions among three factors: (1) the organism’s genetic endowment, which is a product of its evolution; (2) its experience; and (3) its perception of the current situation (Pinel, 2011).
What Pinel is describing is the personality of Jobs. When one examines Steve Jobs within this framework, his success and failures become clear due to the manner in which his personality developed. There are a number of theories that can be used to show the development and forces in Jobs's personality. Using Erik Erikson, Carl Rogers, and Sigmund Freud’s theories of development one can see the personality of Jobs from different perspectives and glean an understanding of how he developed and behaved during his life.
Erik Erikson explains personality development through his theory of eight stages of developmental change. According to Erikson, the development of personality and behavior occur across a person’s life. Erikson posits that human development is based on conflict or developmental tasks that humans must face at different points in their lives (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). According to Erikson, the developmental tasks that individuals face must be resolved such that the person can properly develop as a person with a healthy personality (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). The resolution of the conflict must be positive in nature such that the person learns what is needed to move on to the next development task (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Erikson’s developmental stages include the following description of Steve Jobs which provide a perspective on his behavior and personality:
1. Trust-versus-mistrust stage- This stage begins at birth and lasts until approximately 18 months of age. The first stage of development is best described in terms of the infant being dependent on parents or caregivers. During this stage, care quality is vital to the shaping of the child’s personality. In accordance with Steve Jobs, it is arguable how he was impacted because he was adopted and despite quality care Jobs seemed to hold distrust for many people. At some point in this stage of development Jobs likely learned to distrust individuals due to changes in parents. One can see this because most of the descriptions of Jobs was that he held extreme views on loyalty throughout his life such that his mentality was described as “you are either with me or against me” (Netflix, 2012).
2. Autonomy-versus-shame-and-doubt stage- In this stage of development, Erikson believed that an individual begins to understand that he is an autonomous individual with personal desires and abilities. Steve Jobs admits that he was raised by parents who reinforced independence by emphasizing education and encouragement. Jobs and his father spent a large amount of time working on projects when he was a child and this likely reinforced the idea of being independent. However, Jobs’ independence was marred by his inability to trust people in relationships and as such he was never fully independent due to his need to work with others and use them as he needed.
3. Initiative-versus guilt stage- During this stage, individuals are curious and open to learning. Children who are nurtured with care and quality answers concerning thoughts are more likely to overcome fear and be independent thinkers. Jobs appears to have been capable of independent thinking but his uniqueness was not based on new ideas as much as it was based on improving other people’s concepts and inventions (Sen, 2012). For example, Jobs would tell people that he conceived the idea of Windows but this was not completely true. This concept had been around for some time to use an interface to access programs. Again one can see that Jobs was not completely capable of overcoming his negative feelings concerning his thinking and would lie to impress others.
4. Industry-versus-inferiority stage- This stage occurs between the ages of 6 and 11. In this stage, social interactions become key points in a person’s development. During this stage of development, Jobs begins moving away from normal development. Jobs' intelligence provides him with strength in academics and he was offered to skip two grades by his school (Netflix, 2012). Jobs’ parents did not think that this was a good thing because it would isolate him by his age from other students and as a result Jobs could only skip one grade (Netflix, 2012). This decision may have negatively impacted Jobs by keeping him from fully actualizing himself. As Jobs could easily do the work required of him it is likely that he found a level of arrogance in this stage along with confidence. Jobs would develop a reputation for being overconfident and arrogant (Netflix, 2012). Perhaps this was a reaction to not being challenged enough with academics.
5. Identity-versus role confusion stage- In this stage of Erikson’s development, the person is challenged with achieving a personal identity. Adolescents who positively work through this task are able to attain a strong self-identity (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). According to Erikson, a person will develop fidelity or the ability to be true to one’s principles and beliefs. Jobs was never able to achieve this identity, likely due to the fact that he did not develop in prior stages positively. Jobs would lie to people and be often only concerned with his own interests (Netflix, 2012).
6. Intimacy-versus isolation- This stage occurs between ages 19 and 40. This stage of development requires the person to be able to form intimate relationships with other people (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Jobs was not capable of forming these relationships. When faced with having his first child, Jobs lied and accused the girlfriend of lying and he lied in court documents claiming that he was sterile (Netflix, 2012). Jobs was not able to form relationships that were lasting.
7. Generativity-versus stagnation- This stage takes occurs between the ages of 40 and 65. In this stage of development, individuals try to create or nurture things or ideas which will outlast them. While Jobs accomplished this task early in life he did not derive the satisfaction of knowing that he had benefited other people. Jobs would die in this stage of life never reaching the final stage of ego-integrity-versus despair.
When one views Jobs within Erikson’s theory of development it is easy to see how his lack of trust and overconfidence may have benefitted him in building a massive company able to impact the world. However, these traits also made him a liar and caused him to be disconnected from most people. It is a strange dichotomy of thought that Steve Jobs's failures in development may have also been the forces that allowed him to achieve success. Jobs’ distrust of people and lack of empathy allowed him to make decisions that although harsh were necessary to build the Apple empire.
Psychodynamics is perhaps the most well-known theory that explains personality development. This theory was made famous by Sigmund Freud (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Freud proposed the psychodynamic perspective which describes personality as the interactions between the different areas of the mind. These areas of the mind include the id, ego, and superego (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). According to Freud, the id is the instinctual center of the mind. The ego is the rational or logical area and the superego is the part of the mind that is responsible for moral standards and personal values (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). Psychoanalytic theory posits that personality is formed through the interaction of id, ego, and superego (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). Freud posits that “behavior is ultimately determined by unconscious sexual and aggressive drives and by the complex intrapsychic conflicts that arise in daily life” (McAdams, 2009). Freud’s theory views personality as the result of underlying beliefs and conflicts between the id, ego, and superego which manifest into attitudes and beliefs that ultimately guide behavior (McAdams, 2009).
When Steve Jobs is considered from this approach it becomes apparent that there is a great deal of underlying conflict in Jobs. His behaviors and ideas were often contradictory. For example, Jobs claimed that Apple was a company founded on the ideas of making a better world through technology but his practices of running the company were at times medieval. When holding meetings, Jobs would ask for opinions but when opinions deferred from his he would vehemently attack the person in rhetoric. Freud would refer to this behavior as an overcompensation resulting from conflict and imbalance between the id and ego (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). These conflicts were, according to Freud, the result of issues that may have stemmed from birth such as being adopted and resenting this fact. There are many ways that psychodynamics would explain Jobs's contradictory behavior but ultimately it would be the result of imbalances between his function areas of the mind.
A more robust and comprehensive view of Jobs's personality can be gleaned from Carl Rogers. Rogers developed a personality theory that is based on the belief that all organisms are born with “innate capacities, capabilities, or potentialities…a sort of genetic blueprint, to which substance is added as life progresses” (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Rogers posited that a genetic blueprint underpins a person’s development and is casual to personality and behavior (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Rogers developed this theory based on observations of animals who are born and fulfill a pattern of growth and development such that all animals develop in accordance with their patterns that are unique to their breed and species. For example, dogs have puppies and the puppies are relatively the same in terms of physical similarity. They will have many of the same features but they will differ in some ways such as coat color, size, and temperament. Rogers saw these variations as a difference in individual blueprints (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Rogers posited that individual blueprints were the result of both biological and environmental forces. Rogers explained this relationship between environment and biology as a self-actualizing tendency (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). Self-actualizing tendency refers to the idea that if a person believes that he is a successful hardworking person then the person will attempt to actualize this belief. Rogers referred to this idea as “men and women develop their personalities in the service of positive goals” (Coon & Mitterer, 2013). This theory explains how the combination of Job’s having a high IQ and lack of empathy (possibly from childhood adoption issues) could form his personality. Jobs knew that he was smart and he knew that he could achieve more but was limited such as in the case of not being able to move into a higher grade in school. It is likely that Jobs’ high IQ provided the blueprint for his personality and combined with nurturing factors this would create both the brilliant and contradictory person he became.
When viewed from different theories of personality, Steve Jobs is less of an enigmatic figure and can be seen more as a product of his intellect and environment. These unique interactions formed the basis of the personality of Jobs which was driven and relentless in its pursuit of actualizing concepts. These interactions, when seen from any of the theories presented prior, show that Jobs was not able to succeed based on innate intellect or his ability to rally people to his cause. His personality was controlling and dominating to the point of being able to force his will on people. One person described Jobs as being able to make you question the color of the sky if you listened to him long enough. This personality provided Jobs with the tools necessary to create a monolithic industry based on innovation. This is evidenced by the fact that many people who were much smarter than Steve Jobs were not able to accomplish this same goal.
One might question the veracity of these personality theories because they show Jobs in a negative light as a person such as failing to trust people or having deep-rooted conflicts. These traits that would make Jobs famous and build a computing empire were also detrimental because they denied him the ability to relinquish control at the cost of his family’s love and even his own life. When Steve Jobs was presented with the diagnosis of cancer, he was told that he needed to have an operation that could save his life. Jobs was so controlling and distrustful that he attempted to save himself by looking for alternative treatments. This lack of trust and dominating personality would force him to waste time and by the time he admitted he needed the help of doctors, it would be too late. While one might be inclined to question whether Jobs had an unhealthy personality in light of his many accomplishments, one may also seek to question the damage that his personality caused to others and himself.
Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2013). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
J.P., P. (2011). Biopsychology (8 ed.). Princeton, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2009). Psychology (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
McAdams, D. P. (2009). The person: An introduction to the science of personality psychology (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Netflix (Producer), Sen, P. (Writer), & Sen, P. (Director). (2012). Steve jobs: The lost interview [Motion Picture]. The USA.
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