What Consultants Should Learn From Steve Jobs' Arrogance
Do You Have a Brand?
We have all seen it in television comedies – the absurdly self-assured interior decorator who paints the hapless TV couple's bedroom a green hovering between puke and vomit, followed by the couple’s groveling behavior and apologies for not expressing instantaneous delight.
These exaggerated scenarios make some of us laugh, but they do not simply arise from the vapors. As is true of most humor, such stories usually hold a kernel of truth.
Why Jobs’ Arrogance Is a Beautiful Thing
That is why I found myself in a rare disagreement with a blogger I admire (and therefore will not identify) who once criticized Steve Jobs’ “arrogant behavior” at a press conference following the release of the Apple iPad. The blogger scolded Jobs’ for lashing out at a certain consumer-reporting agency, which had refused to give his shiny new product its stamp of approval.
The Appleman – not to be confused with this Appleman – has once again landed himself in the pea soup over an arrogant e-mail exchange with a young journalism student. She had the audacity to e-mail Jobs and complain that his Media Relations department was ignoring her phone calls. Golly, all she needed was to ask a few questions of a departmental representative in order to complete her college paper. Having worked in a PR position, buried beneath about two million pounds of “to do” stickies, I understand how this impuse to set priorities might occur. At any rate, after a bit of sparring, it became clear that of this e-mail duel, Jobs soon grew weary, ultimately delivering the fatal stab by telling this nice young woman to shove it.
Now Was That Brilliant, or What?
Think about it. If an Apple PR rep had answered this student’s questions expeditiously, there would be no national coverage. There would be no further sightings of arrogant Steve at it again. There would be no diligent college student bullied by Steve Jobs (especially a student who soon will be competing for a job). I’d say Jobs has provided this student a bigger career boost than any A grade in PR 101 ever will. Imagine what an interview icebreaker that story will make!
So why do I think Jobs’ behavior was brilliant? As any good PR person knows, publicity has two guiding tenets that never change:
- An organically produced news article trumps a paid ad, digital link, or dirigible flyby any time, and
- In the immortal words of legendary circus showman P.T. Barnum, “All publicity is good publicity.” (Well, we might want to revisit that one at some point.)
In Jobs’ case, arrogance has become integral to his “personal brand image," which drives the Apple brand. Think about the celebrities whose very aloof and elusive qualities makes us like them more – much more than the always-accessible "personalities" we might think are just a tad too much like the rest of us average folks to belong in the galaxy of real stars.
But What about Bill?
What About Bill?
I don’t know exactly how much Apple donates to charity, although I do know the company operates a charitable foundation and often donates computers to schools (and I am sure Wikipedia probably has totally accurate information about this). However, I must say that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation blows away the standard of charitable philanthropy for all time.
The foundation donates gazillions in funding to support research, scholarship and volunteer initiatives in the areas of global and U.S. health, urban poverty, homelessness, agricultural development, and education.
I know, I know. There are people in the computer software industry who absolutely hate, loathe, despise, want to tar-and-feather Bill Gates. Yet when I think about Gates, my thoughts zoom back to one of his talk show appearances – and I can’t remember which one, but when I do, I’ll come back and edit this.
Anyway, while chatting with the show’s host, Gates revealed that he and his wife Melinda were taking singing lessons together. Now what could be sweeter , I thought. Naturally, the host asked Bill to get up and sing a few bars. Not soon into this gazillionaire’s national singing debut, however, the show’s host – along with much of the audience – began cracking up, and I mean they were making belly laughs, snorting laughs, guffaws and that high-pitched laugh the way some ladies do when it's late in the evening (Paul Simon, kids; look it up on Wikipedia). Most memorable to me about that moment is the utterly wounded, vulnerable expression that slowly spread across Bill Gates’ face as it dawned on him that they were actually laughing at him. I thought, well gee, he's probably heard nothing but phony praise from his singing instructor who's been stringing him along, because, I mean, who would be so stupid as to tell the truth; thereby killing the golden goose? While Gates’ national singing debut was probably a humiliating eye opener, I’m sure he recovered that evening by taking a bath in a few million $1,000 bills. I believe he now uses singing as part of his comedy repertoire.
Yes, I know that Microsoft has legions of people who despise it. I’m personally all too aware that these people regularly attempt to infect the Microsoft operating system with viruses (now just hold onto your keyboards, now you disease spreaders – as soon as I can afford it, I swear I'm buying a Mac). Yet for all the foul business practices of which he's been accused, I just do not think arrogant when I think Bill Gates, this gazillionaire who even allowed himself to be filmed while singing “I’m a Little Teapot.” Why, this is a guy who had super-duper nice things to say about the Apple MacIntosh back in the 1980s. Of course, he did famously – and foolishly – dismiss the iPod (and in fact still does), which happens to be an indispensible music delivery system that I listen to regularly.
So what with the swindling antitrust crook Bill Gates image and the charitable, teapot singing Bill Gates image, one must wonder: Is this man really confused about his personal brand image? Here’s a guy who’s reviled for questionable business practices and whose company was once sued for antitrust violations. Yet here’s a guy who will stand up and sing on live TV, making an ass of himself. This is a man who will tell jokes using the most painful delivery style known to comedy. Just who is Bill Gates, really?
Now in your wildest dreams, can you imagine Steve Jobs doing any of those things?
But then again, can you imagine some computer geek college nerd having the guts to plant a virus in someone's Mac operating system?
I didn’t think so.