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Standing Up to Steve Jobs
November 14, 2011 - 7:31pm

I'm still curious if you are reading, or plan to read, Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.  (And I'd love to find a way to test my hypothesis that more people in the IHE community are simultaneously reading this book than any previous book - a question I don't know how to solve short of hacking into Amazon's servers).

One of my big takeaways from the book was the degree of cruelty that Jobs could exhibit to his employees (as well as potential partners, suppliers, hapless waiters, etc. etc.).  The mirror image of Jobs's tendency to abuse people was the incredible loyalty he was able to establish among a select group of incredibly talented individuals.   The keys to working with Jobs, apparently, were:

A.  Knowing what you were talking about.

B.  Not being afraid to push back and argue with Jobs about what you believed.

C.  The ability to not take a Steve Jobs temper tantrum personally, and to see that he used confrontation as a creative and collaborative tool.

The people flourished under Jobs have either the temperament of an artist (Jony Ive), or the calm and steady confidence of a quarterback (Tim Cook).  

What I wonder is if I would have been able to stand up to Steve Jobs? Would I have wilted under the yelling and screaming? Or would I have remained calm, pushed back, not taken things personally - and been willing to stick to my beliefs and wait him out? I'm not so sure.  

One of the reasons I love working at the intersection of education and technology is the relationships that develop over the years. Relationships with colleagues at my institution, at previous institutions, and at schools around the world. Relationships with people who work for technology and publishing companies. Relationships with the journalists and authors who write about our industry. Relationships with the people who run our professional organizations. The ed tech world is actually quite small. We move in and out of jobs and institutions and companies, but we stay in touch and find ourselves cross paths and working together quite often.   

Part of my ed tech skills, I hope, is building relationships. This desire for social bonds also leaves one vulnerable to being hurt. One of my goals after reading Isaacson's book is to be more comfortable with confrontation, and fully prepared to deal with aggressive behavior calmy and positively.  My goal is to figure out how to stand up to the next Steve Jobs.  Not because we should countenance abusive or rude behavior (which is never acceptable), but because that skill may be the price of sometimes doing great work with brilliant (if flawed) people.   

Would you have been able to stand up to Jobs?   

How have you developed a tougher shell at work without sacrificing your ability to care what your peers think (when appropriate) and make meaningful personal connections?

What is the path you took to learn this skill?

And yes, one more thing, what are you reading?


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