Steve Jobs & Business Ethics: A Cautionary Tale

relaxAfter being reinstated as Apple’s CEO in 1997, Steve Jobs made one thing clear: If something or someone stood in the way of what he wanted, he wouldn’t hesitate to violate the rules of social or business interaction in order to get his result. Often berating and firing employees on the spot, verbally abusing strangers who got in his way, and parking in handicapped parking spots whenever he felt like it – Steve Jobs reminds us of the scripture from Matthew 16:26, “ What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Although having departed our world over a year ago, according to the August 2012 Wired article “Am I Steve Jobs” (written by Ben Austen), the Jobs biography continues to be a best seller. And for some, his life story has “emerged as an odd sort of holy scripture for entrepreneurs – a gospel and an antigospel at the same time”. This from the life of a man that succeeded in developing great products that might be remembered for 50 years down the road, but may have failed his friends, family, and encouraged others to do the same. Yeah, real inspiring.

For instance, Steve Davis, a CEO of a software company, admires the Jobs drive to succeed – even if it’s at the expense of those he shares his community with. Davis states that he too has to set aside certain aspects of family life, and believes that company’s fail when employees aren’t committed to being available 24 hours a day. And while that might create problems in his personal life – he noted that he was blessed with a wife who could pick up the slack.

And there’s others too, who seem like they’d fit in better with the National Socialist party of Germany in the 1930’s, than with the Christian virtues that much of Western civilized society was built upon. Guys like Tristan O’Tierney, a Mac and iPhone Software Developer says, “he now sees the value in bluntly telling people their work is crap.” And Ray Dalio, the so-called “Steve Jobs of investing”, believes that employees should clash with one another, and speak without filters or be concerned about sensitivity. And there’s Neal Sales-Griffen, a 25 year old cofounder and CEO of a programming school in Chicago, says that he “doesn’t waste time anymore with intricacies of etiquette” – this after recalling Jobs berating a team of employees in an auditorium, telling them they should “hate each other for letting each other down”, and firing the team leader on the spot.

However, Walter Isaacson, the author of the Steve Jobs Biography says that he “sees Jobs as being hardly more blameworthy, even in his worst moments, than other powerful people”. You know the types. People who may be surprised at Jobs carnivorous manner, but then go on to “screw clients out of their life savings”. Or those who point fingers at Jobs failings with his family, but then end up having been married three times themselves, with kids that don’t ever speak to them.
Robert Sutton, a professor of management and engineering at Stanford, is quick to point out in his 2007 book, “The No @$$hole Rule”, that “intimidation can be used strategically to gain power. But in most situations, the @$$hole simply does not get the best results. Psychological studies show that abusive bosses reduce productivity, stifle creativity, cause high rates of absenteeism, company theft, and turnover. 25 percent of bullied employees and 20 percent of those who witness the bullying will eventually quit because of it.”

Sure, Jobs developed some amazing products in his time, and undoubtedly achieved great power, fame and financial success. But in the end, what’s the point of achieving only fleeting accomplishments, when we have the legacy of children, friends, and our own eternity ahead of us? Sure, work hard. But do it with the creativity, grace, humility, and inspiration that isn’t found in our own narcissistic desires – but from our Creator, and the Bible He’s given us.

To read more of about Steve Jobs, please see Ben Austen’s The Story of Steve Jobs.

And if you’d like to read a truly inspiring individual who not only got results, but lived a life that encouraged others instead of cutting them down, please see Eric Metaxas’s: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

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One Response to Steve Jobs & Business Ethics: A Cautionary Tale

  1. spinoza1111 says:

    Interesting points although Holy Scripture is not the sole source of a good life: western “civilization” is simply not superior to non-Christian civilization in any significant way.

    I didn’t know Jobs personally although he was a friend of some friends when I was in the valley and we used to party in a house he owned but did not use. Like most successful executives he was a prick who did berate good developers, typically for not meeting deadlines but also because he didn’t like their designs; most other software CEOs weren’t qualified, as Jobs was, to judge designs but did hold one’s feet to the flames as regarding meeting deadlines.

    I do have a bit of a long-distance issue with Jobs in that in the same month in 1981 I agreed to pay $1100.00 to my former wife to support two boys on a salary of 40K per year, Jobs agreed to pay his former girlfriend only $350.00 a month while concealing from the judge the fact that in a month or so, he knew very well that he’d be a millionaire since Apple when public that year.

    In Silicon Valley in my direct experience you provided your employer with a lot of free hours if you thought you were being paid for a forty hour week, with the resulting harm to family and spiritual life. I learned to insist on time for both no matter what the cost, and the cost in my case was never getting promoted to management…which wasn’t a big deal since I preferred to develop software.

    In fact I took a massive pay cut in 1987 to leave Silicon Valley and go to work in software at Princeton University, doing a variety of tasks there including programming and teaching computer science majors the intricacies of the C language. I also assisted John (“A Beautiful Mind”) Nash. And I simply didn’t have to work with Jobs clones.

    I’d grown to despise lower middle class expectations and ethics in computer science, being an elitist who thought software should be correct and beautiful rather than fast and ugly, Of course, Jobs had the same idea. The difference was that as a middle class kid from the suburbs, he knew little about the aesthetics to which he aspired. For example, in the “think different” [sic] campaign of the 1990s, it became clear to me that for Jobs, cultural capital was a “drowned archipelago”, like Indonesia, consisting of the names and biographies of leading cultural figures such as Picasso, but unconnected by any deeper knowledge of the world in which Picasso lived. “Think Different” pandered to the Yuppie who thinks, in a quite undifferentiated way, that he ought to have more “cultural capital” and who thinks cultural capital can be bought by buying the right kind of computer.

    Actual developers knew, that just as for Picasso there was also Braque from whom Picasso stole using Jobs’ brutal ethic of “real artists steal”, there was, as a drowned archipelago, a whole subculture of real developers whose work was being expropriated (as in stolen) at warp speed, people like Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie (the original developers of unix, which became linux and father the ideas in Mac’s Lion OS) and Edsger Dijkstra (an almost completely forgotten developer and professor who made multitasking a reality by inventing semaphores and also noticed how great developers structure code to reconcile correctness with elegance. Unless I can persuade a publisher to let me write Dijkstra’s biography as Sylvia Nasar wrote that of John Nash, Dijsktra will be forgotten.

    Jobs thought he was the smartest person in the room using a law that American businessmen have applied since Henry Ford: even when someone is provably smarter than they are, he cannot be because they have more money. Therefore he isn’t, QED.

    But I don’t feel that Jobs gained the whole world and lost his own soul. In fact, if part of Jobs’ soul was a desire to make his mark upon history by creating something as an artist, he was in this, a success. But he used other people in a way that a real artist would despise. Real artists prefer to work alone.

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