Quick review: iCon, and where are all the nice people?

I'm one chapter away from finishing iCon, an unauthorized biography of Steve Jobs. The choice of capitalization in the title isn't just a play on Apple's attempt to corner the market on technology products that start with the letter i. The authors while clearly admiring of Jobs achievements and brilliance, don't hold back on their criticism of some of his personal traits and egregious behavior. Apparently, it was enough to have all the publisher's books officially banned at the Apple Retail Stores.

If you've seen Pirates of the Silicon Valley, you're familiar with some of this material. The authors do a great job of telling Jobs' personal and professional story; and the story is truly, truly remarkable. It chronicles entrepreneurial experiences that started ridiculously early, tremendous restlessness to "find oneself", eclectic tastes, a relentless drive for perfection, incredible confidence and an almost magical ability to negotiate and to gain people's loyalty.

However, it spends more time on the dark side and not just on Jobs' personal life, famous temper and manipulation of people (don't forget the famous reality distortion field.)
There's incredible pettiness and politicking on display by so many of the players; not just Jobs but even the people at Disney and others at Apple in those early days. Examples of taking credit for others' work, pure meanness, pigheadedness and backstabbing abound in this book. There's definitely genius on display, but so is truly distasteful behavior.

In my final quarter, the Power and Influence class I took sometimes troubled me, because the behavior and tactics that powerful people often employed were (surprisingly) disturbing. The class also made me realize that political games of this sort were almost unavoidable in any organization, especially if a person is ambitious and wants to get ahead. There's a thin line between influencing people in "good" way and manipulating them.

We're taught to believe from an early age that being "nice" is important. Being fair is good, being honest is valuable, that there is "right thing to do" and fed cliches like "do unto others..." and "what goes around.."
I've always wondered if this was valid or even logical (another post on this:).)

However, every person's moral and ethical standards are very personal. The one I have set for myself, for no other reason than I wouldn't be as happy living any other, wouldn't approve of a lot of the egomanical, selfish behavior on display.

Which leads me to the next question: where are all the nice people? When you think of leaders/CEOs/whatever, for how many of them is "nice"(or honest/kind) the first adjective you think of? I ran out pretty fast once I started counting. Is being nice/kind/considerate/generous simply not important or necessary to be a good leader? Is it actually a hindrance to getting to these positions? Hmmm..this post has gone long enough; more on another one, but what do you think?

BTW: I think its amusing that Steve Wozniak's autobiography is called IWoz.:) That needs to be added to the reading list.


Faisal said…
Not sure if you've read Good to Great, but that book makes it a point to identify super-CEOs that weren't rockstars, or made their way to the top by being jerks. I think that being a nice "CEO" is highly correlated with being a "modest" CEO, and not being a media-whore.
Satyajeet said…
I haven't read "Good to Great" but, you're right.

I guess part of the problem is exactly that.

We admire those that get the most media attention. Unfortunately the ability to get attention in itself isn't an admirable quality, and comes strongly positively correlated with the need to feed an ego, which if the desire is strong enough to consume any better instincts can lead to some pretty disgusting behavior.

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