Was Steve Jobs a Hero or a Shithead?

Is that the question?? Before you guys attack me for such a blatantly ugly question, allow myself to explain … myself. Steve Jobs was fond of calling people heroes or shitheads. Walter Isaacson points out numerous “hero” and/or “shithead” occasions in his biography, “Steve Jobs.” Jobs rarely found a middle ground. As a matter-of-fact, it seems like people were black and white to Jobs. Most of us mere mortals see people in shades of grey. Jobs had a knack and perhaps even a gift of calling it exactly the way he saw it. His brutal honesty would often make people feel like kings or tear them down into shreds of flesh.

I grew up knowing about Steve Jobs because my dad introduced me to the Apple ][+ when he bought one for our family back in 1979. It was this very computer that got me interested in information technology and later led my life to where I am today as a chief information officer. Without that early and cool introduction, I may not be the man I am today. In other words, I owe my success to Dad and Steve Jobs.

Through the years, Dad told me about Jobs and his wonderful company Apple Inc. Strangely enough, Steve Jobs died within two months of my dad and under similar circumstances. They both withered away from the effects of cancer

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. Jobs died on October 5, 2011 and my father died on December 4, 2011.

Even though I knew many things about Jobs and Apple as I grew up, I had no idea about the levels of his candor and -sometimes- downright mean behavior. After reading Isaacson’s book my eyes were opened. Some who read it might walk away thinking how callous and evil(ish) Jobs was, but I choose to see the other side. He was an amazing man with a gift that he discovered early on and used to create the greatest computer company anyone has ever seen (and may ever see again).

Back to the title of this article – I honestly wonder if Steve Jobs had worked with himself, would he have looked over his shoulder and said, “Wow … That is amazing. You really get this. In my book you’re a hero!” Or, would he have leaned in, grunted, and then spat out, “This work is shit and you’re a complete idiot!” Hard to say for sure, but I like to believe that depending on the timing and events he may have said either one.

Despite how you feel about Jobs, the things he did and accomplished at Apple, Pixar, and later Disney are utterly amazing! His perfectionism was world renowned and contributed directly to picking Apple literally out of the ashes and turning it into one of the most powerful IT companies in the world. He often used his “reality distortion field” to turn things from impossible to possible. I respect and envy this trait.

While I do not condone nor believe in treating people as black and white as Jobs often did, I certainly can respect the success that he built in himself and others. By being so frank, he changed the lives of those around him. We can all take a lesson from Steve Jobs … That lesson might be that honesty often can be empowering. Now I’m not recommending that you walk over to your neighbor and call her a “shithead.” But, I am challenging you to bring some openness, honesty, and candor into conversations with those around you.

While it is possible that Steve Jobs didn’t affect you, I think it’s highly improbable. My guess is that out of the 313 personally held patents and approximately 15,000 patents through Apple, Steve Jobs has helped humanity in at least a small way. Many things would be different today if it were not for Jobs’ role in technology and entertainment. For better or for worse.

Not to mention the fact that his competitive nature helped to drive and improve people like Bill Gates, Steve Balmer, Andy Grove, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Eric Schmidt, and countless others.

Steve Jobs brought the mouse and the GUI interface to the personal computer (regardless of whether he stole the idea or not, he did bring it). He is also one of the pioneers of networking PCs together.

Regardless of “owning” any of his gadgets, the gadgets you DO own would not be as fantastic (or perhaps even exist) had it not been for Jobs. I suppose if you don’t use a PC, tablet, smartphone, listen to music, or watch animated movies, then you could say that he has not had much impact on your life.

In my opinion, he has not only helped humanity to advance, but he has also changed the way we think.

In addition to his technology advancements that have made the world better, me and my kids have loved and learned from his many movies including, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Cars, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Bug’s Life, and Brave. These movies may or may not have improved humanity, but at the very least, they have entertained us.

I like being entertained. It helps me with my positive attitude. I believe my positive attitude is one of the main reasons that I have survived despite my illness. There might be a few others that feel the same way…

That said, Was he a hypocrite? It is my opinion that we are all hypocrites at some level or another. As human beings, it is in our nature and impossible to avoid. However, he may have been a bigger hypocrite than you or I.

To me, Steve was a hero and a shit head. And, it is my belief that he clearly helped humanity…

Do you think that Steve Jobs was man deserving of respect? I do.

Your faithful propeller head,

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About Vaughn Ripley

Vaughn is a happily married daddy, author, and CIO. He is an HIV+ hemophiliac, and is one of the longest surviving HIV+ people in the universe.
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  1. Michelle Sidor says

    This made me think of the build on your strengths, not your weaknesses discussion. I wonder what his Meyer-Briggs is? I’m guessing INTJ. Strengths=innovation, perfectionism, and hard working. Weakness=Communicating with people. Just a thought. Maybe he knew the benefits of focusing on strengths….something the rest of America has yet to do. I bet there would be another boom of great inventions if strengths become the focus.

    • Hi Michelle,

      According to an article I read, Steve was an ENTJ… So, your guess was very close. As a side note, Bill Gates is listed as an INTP. I do love the strengths idea and firmly believe that America would be better with more emphasis and focus on our strengths.

      Thanks for chiming in!


  2. Dan McNally says

    Is anyone a hero or a shithead . . . it depends on who’s looking at them . . . beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To my dog, I’m a hero . . . to the rest of the world, probably not so much!

    • True enough, Dan. My article was pointing to the irony that Steve saw everyone as one or the other… There was no middle ground to him. So, I turned his philosophy back around on him.

      p.s. You are a hero to me!

  3. He was a leader. His blunt style drove people to excel whether you saw him as an ass or not. People in this world, like him, rub people the wrong way but when the rubber hits the road, that’s the kind of person you want at the helm to not only bring out the best in you and those around you to achieve a common goal.

  4. Great article! I’ve always sat on the fence when it comes to Jobs. I’ve read “Fire in the Valley” (made into a TNT movie titled “Pirates of Silicon Valley”) and have read a lot about him over the years. Unmatched business genius in some respects, shithead in others (Atari & The Woz for instance). I have Jobs’ biography in my “To read” list and am looking forward to reading it one day.

  5. John Thompson says

    This might seem harsh, but I see Steve Jobs as more shithead than hero. Of course his shitheadedness is what made him so successful. He was bold, brash, and would only accept his vision.

    But while I see him as kind of a shithead (a very forward thinking shithead) it’s clear he straddled the line of hero and shithead.

    Hero – Inspired Woz to create a great product
    Shithead – Lost first PC war by demanding a closed architecture, and sent co-founder Woz packing.
    Hero – Brount Mice to consumers.
    Shithead – Was ousted from Apple after poor Macintosh sales.
    Hero & Shithead – Founded NeXT. That while great, really had no market.
    Hero – Bought Pixar
    Hero – Resurrected Apple with iPod and iPhone

    • I agree with you John! This is the way I saw him too. Sort of a necessary evil to stoke the IT fires. Love his innovation though! And, boy could he lead people to self-motivate!

      Thanks for the input.

  6. Nice write-up. Somewhat like Jobs, I’ve often received both acclaim and scorn for my always-blunt, frank way of communicating. I similarly also see people as pretty much heroes or shitheads, though I do feel that I have a more a optimistic demeanor than Jobs, as I see heroes in the vast majority of people I observe (though I do tend to bitch about the rare shitheads more) because I see the “heroic” in the little things that people do. So, in a lot of ways, I identify with Jobs, though we definitely exist on different planes of brilliance. I won’t hold that against him though. Just because I would have invented the iPod five years earlier is no reason to attack the poor guy.

    All in all, I’d say that Jobs was a heroic shithead who left the world, and its people, in much better shape than how he found it, and thus is very deserving of our respect and admiration. As a human, he was not immune to mistakes, both of action and of person, but on the whole, when his deeds are laid out and weighed, the sum of his life is very much heroic in nature and redeeming of any faults or shitheaded tendencies he may have had, and in that exists the best lesson for us all and hence Jobs’s greatest gift to us: the tangible example that real life grants us all the opportunity to live beyond our faults or character quirks and be heroes in the end, if we endeavor to live full lives that leave enough good in the world to outweigh the negative ripples we may have cast.

  7. Susan Moore says

    Very insightful – it is always a good idea to see any issue from more than one perspective. You have done that in a thoughtful manner. Thank you.

  8. His LSD use was the real key, and few people understand that. This is why he asked people straight up in interviews “have you ever taken LSD.” Depending on their answer, he got a quick read on how they see the world.

    Apple is losing its edge when it comes to innovation, because they lost a man who thought about the world in a wildly new and interesting way. Only other LSD users can understand the importance of its influence on Jobs.