What ‘Steve Jobs’ Tells Us About Gifted

It is often said that gifted students should read the biographies of gifted individuals to gain insight into the struggles that some of our more eminent  individuals have experienced in finding their place in the world.  After reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I would like to add this book to the list of must read biographies. While I have had a number of people say to me, “he may have been brilliant, but he was a jerk” I think that it is worthy to explore what constitutes that evaluation of his character in light of his accomplishments, something Isaacson does very well in the book.

I have been fascinated for some time with Steve Jobs’ story, especially after watching the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley more than 13 years ago. The movie contrasted the stories of Bill Gates and Microsoft to Steve Jobs and Apple as they raced to make personal computers accessible to everyone. Even in that movie, the quirkiness of Jobs’ life story and habits would sometimes overshadow his gifts. “He may have been brilliant but…” stops us from looking a little bit further and trying to understand how the “but” might contribute to his brilliance. In reading Isaacson’s book, I was able to get a better understanding of this and reflect on how some of the gifted students that I work with can also be misunderstood.

One of the things referenced often in the book is the “reality distortion field” that seemed to surround Jobs. One of his colleagues described it as “a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any face to fit the purpose at hand.” (Chapter 11) At first read the statement makes Jobs comes across as manipulative in his drive to make people do his bidding.  But as I was reading through the chapter I couldn’t help think about a colleague of mine who refers to the gifted brain as “wired differently”.  Some of my students affirm this when they refer to the loneliness, lack of understanding and alienation they can feel simply because they experience things differently. I wonder if sometimes they feel a continuous pressure to fit into what could be considered from their point of view, the reality distortion field of mainstream society.

Which brings us to wonder what made it possible for Steve Jobs to make what others might have seen as initially unrealistic, into reality. There were two things that really struck me in considering this. The first was his vision. Not only was it idealistic in his genuine desire to make computers intuitive to the point of removing all barriers for the users to be creative, but it was also holistic as he believed every single aspect no matter how large or small, contributed to the whole. So what happened if you were contracted to come up with a contribution to the project and it didn’t quite fit with the vision. Jobs would likely tell you “it sucks” without kindness or tact regardless if you were a mile or a millimeter off the mark. It was not unlike the “all or nothing” mentality I’ve seen from more than one gifted student. In the case of Steve Jobs, his attention to all aspects of production gave us some pretty innovative products. (Yes, I love my iPad!) It also makes me wonder what kind of amazing things lie the in the reality distortion fields of other gifted individuals who aren’t able to negotiate social situations well.

I could go on and on about the book and how his competitive nature didn’t seem to be about money but more about creating not only awesome “stuff” but better “stuff”. How his fascination for simplicity  was underscored by the understanding that true simplicity tends to be incredibly complex. How his very human struggle with lifestyle choices and relationships impacted his health and well-being. It was a fascinating read.

I think I am due to examine a few more biographies. There is a great post at Ingeniosus that will link you to some great biographies for gifted students. As I look through the list I see a lot of “disruptive” individuals…

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