It doesn't matter if Steve Jobs was formally diagnosed with ADHD or even whether he was blessed and cursed with the paradox that is the ADHD brain. What is important is that he personified so many of the traits that are common to the 4 to 7 million children and 9 to 13 million adults in the United States, who struggle in part due to a lack of knowledge within the general world population. Everyone would benefit if corporate managers and higher learning administrators learned how to tap and harness the abundant talents associated with the ADHD brain. Here are a few of those traits: 1) nonlinear solutions to problem solving outside of the box, 2) an internally driven hyper-focus on a single mission, 3) perfectionism, and 4) an uncanny ability to envision how vastly dissimilar elements can be fashioned into a superior well-oiled machine. While there may never be another Steve Jobs, it is possible that his greatest legacy could be that he inspired future generations of people, who will think in a way similar to his heroes who were ADHD, like Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Michelangelo, Ansell Adams, Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare. In his commencement address at Stanford, June 2005 he said: "Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." Very few people are aware of some of the common traits associated with ADHD. When we read about Steve Jobs' life however we see not only those traits that are indicative of his success but also the traits that threatened his survival. At the beginning of Apple, his perfectionism led to a product that nearly everyone wanted. "That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains." [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998]. But it also led to his reputation as the most feared man in California. "Steve might be capable of reducing someone to tears," according to NeXT former director Pat Crecine, "but it's not because he's mean-spirited; it's because he's absolutely single minded, almost manic, in his pursuit of quality and excellence." It is common for others to attribute a personal slight to actions from ADD'ers that stems, not from malice but, actually from the unique wiring indicative of the ADHD brain.
Does that mean that he was the victim of being largely misunderstood? Partially, but it doesn't take an Albert Einstein to know that if you continuously display arrogance and open hostility to the people around you, who don't understand you, then you will someday suffer their wrath. It happened to Steve when he was booted from Apple. . "I'm the only person I know that's lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year.... It's very character-building"[Apple Confidential 2.0]. So what have we learned? Perhaps if there was no more ignorance about people with ADHD, then there could be a plethora of positive contributions from people like Steve Jobs.
When I first learned that perfectionism is a common trait with ADD'er's, I was dubious and my first reaction was denial. I had lived my life being far from perfect and therefore believed that judging others was presumptuous and morally unethical. But I came to find that many aspects of perfectionism had often prevented me from achievement and indulging in rewarding experiences. If I couldn't see a way to produce a perfect product or be the best, then I wouldn't start on it. In writing this article I found it difficult to publish while the iron was at its hottest, because I felt I needed the perfect words to make a powerful statement. The traits listed below are in no particular order, were chosen by the writer and reflect observations taken from various self-assessment tests and anecdotal research from his coaching career. You may notice that many of the statements and quotes crossover from one trait to another. The quotes and statements about Steve Jobs were copied from http://allaboutstevejobs.com/. I. Perfectionism a. A striking example of Steve's perfectionism is the number of Apple projects that he had started over or even canceled at the very last moment. We know now that he canceled an Apple PDA and a set of Web services at the very last minute. The original iMac, the Apple retail stores, the iPhone, and the rumored Apple tablet have allegedly been started over too. b. Steve will only settle for the absolute best in everything he does (even in his private life, for that matter). This standard of excellence drives his employees crazy, but, as stated above, it also pushes them to their very best and makes them achieve extraordinary performances. But he always had excellent relationships with exceptionally bright people for the same reason: they understand his quest for the best. c. Steve reminded a journalist of this at a press conference in 2007: "We can't ship junk. We just can't do it." He refuses that the company build commodity products that he would not use himself. a. " We've already talked about how he recruited people usually regarded as the best in their fields: "One of the things that I've always felt is that most things in life, if you get something twice as good as average you're doing phenomenally well," b. As a bachelor he only had a mattress, huge Ansel Adams prints, and a super-expensive stereo system as pieces of furniture. He did not sleep on a bed for years - even though he was a multi-millionaire. At Woodside the kitchen was the only room that was fully furnished. He did have a Bosendorfer grand piano and a BMW motorcycle in his living room however, testaments of his love of German engineering. c. John Sculley adds: "He possessed an innate sense of knowing exactly how to extract the best from people." Even Steve admits to this: "My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better." II. Impulsivity a. It is pretty easy to recognize Steve's car on Apple's parking lot: i. It's a Mercedes, and Steve loves German engineering. It's parked on an handicapped spot It has no license plate Whenever you saw a big Mercedes parked in a handicapped space, you could be sure that it was Steve's car (actually, it was hard to be sure otherwise, since he also had a habit of removing his license plates). This sometimes caused him trouble, since unknown parties would occasionally retaliate by scratching the car with their keys. III. Disdain for rules Do you often have difficulty waiting your turn when it is required? a. Jobs selected some of his heroes and innovators, in stark black and white portraits, for the initial "Think Different" ad: b. "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people, who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." c. *Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., ^*Richard Branson, *John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), Buckminster Fuller, *Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Ghandi, Amelia Earhart, *Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (and *Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright and *Pablo Picasso. IV. Trouble controlling temper around those who can't see the whole picture the way he does. a. If an employee is not able to meet Steve's standards, he will not hesitate to fire him - hence many of his critics. b. "Imagine what he'd be like if he hadn't studied Buddhism c. Stanford management science professor Robert Sutton said: "As soon as people heard I was writing a book on assholes, they would come up to me and start telling a Steve Jobs story. The degree to which people in Silicon Valley are afraid of Jobs is unbelievable. He made people feel terrible; he made people cry." V. Feeling supported being in nature a. Favorite places: We know from Steve himself and the story of his life that he loves Yosemite, in which he demanded to be married, as well as Europe in general and Paris in particular. b. Favorite art: we can't say for sure but we know that Steve loves photography. For a long time his home was only decorated with large black-and-white photographs of cultural icons such as Einstein, or the California landscape, mostly by Ansel Adams. He also had Japanese prints. VI. Paradox: a person with seemingly self-contradictory qualities. a. That's how he envisions his life. "I don't give a shit what I look like," Steve once confided to friends. He is not burdened by the paradox of being a multi-billionaire and wearing blue jeans with holes in them. In fact, always dressing the same makes perfect sense to him; he often declared the rationale was "to save him some time in the morning, not having to decide what to wear." Neither did he sleep on a bed for years. b. Former Apple CEO John Sculley said this about Steve Jobs' contribution to Macintosh "He didn't create anything really, but he created everything." c. " This is one of Steve's many paradoxes: how could a real Buddhist make a living out of selling gadgets to the masses? VII. Very comfortable on stage. a. The Reality Distortion Field or RDF is a term coined by Apple engineer Burrell Smith to describe Steve's charisma and his ability to convince you of just about anything. The term was used in the context of working with Steve Jobs, but is now widely used to describe his charisma in general, especially on stage. VIII. Not comfortable in social settings. a. "I've got the greatest family in the world, and I've got my work. And that's pretty much all I do. I don't socialize much or go to conferences. I love my family, and I love running Apple, and I love Pixar. And I get to do that. I'm very lucky." IX. Nonlinear solutions to problem solving outside of the box. a. Apple employees refer to that as "cross-pollination" or "concurrent engineering." It means that the development of new products isn't sequential, passing from team to team; it's all simultaneous and organic. Products get worked on in parallel by all departments at once - design, hardware, software - in endless rounds of interdisciplinary design reviews. There are a lot of debates and arguments at Apple. Steve encourages them and delights in them. This is his way of attaining perfection. b. "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998] c. "That's been one of my mantras -- focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains." d. They are highly skillful people out there to change the world for the better by making superior, easy-to-use, mind-blowing hi-tech products. Steve is not ashamed to say this is part of his company's essence: "The people around here - some of them left," he confessed. "Actually, some of them I got rid of. But most of them said, 'Oh, my God, now I get it.' We've been doing this now for seven years, and everybody here gets it. And if they don't, they're gone." e. - Former Apple CEO John Sculley on Steve Jobs' contribution to Macintosh: Another side to this comprehensive approach to the business is Steve's habit of holding Monday morning executive committee meetings. This is when all of his top executives meet with him and when big decisions are taken. These meetings reflect the company's philosophy in both the way they work (simply and effectively) and what they deal with: "We don't sit around talking about how to drive up the stock or how to stick it to the competition. It's always about the products," said Jon Rubinstein while still at Apple. f. We get involved really early on. There's a very natural, consistent collaboration with Steve, with the hardware and software people. I think that's one of the things that's distinctive at Apple. When we're developing ideas there's not a final [technical] architecture established." X. Difficulty unwinding and relaxing at home when he had quiet time? a. Before his marriage, Steve Jobs was a real workaholic. He would spend far more time at work than home, where he would only show up for a quick dinner in the kitchen and a short night. While he was living in his Woodside mansion in the 1990s, dinner was prepared by a young couple of Berkeley alumni who lived in the huge, empty house. Bachelor days. XI. ADHD Entrepreneurs often have difficulty delegating vital responsibilities. a. "I did everything in the early days - documentation, sales, supply chain, sweeping the floors, buying chips, you name it. I put computers together with my own two hands. And as the industry grew up, I kept on doing it." This is Steve's way of saying he is still very involved in an unusually wide array of activities at Apple, way beyond the usual work of a CEO. XII. An unrelenting hyper-focus. a. This amazing ability he has is clearly a decisive factor in his rise as the world's top technology democratizer. And this he had from day one, as if it were innate. b. Steve found out about his destiny pretty early on in life, and that was to change the world by making computer power available to the masses. Woz recalled: "He really wants to move the world forward and not be just another company making the same old thing to earn a buck. That was exactly what he wanted the day I met him when we were in high school. He admired these top people in the world - the Newtons and the Shakespeares. He thought that there were very few people who had really changed life forever for all of us. He obviously wanted to be one of them". The way to do that was to build the best possible computers... this is at the core of Apple's philosophy. As said earlier, Apple is a product company: "our primary goal here is to make the world's best PCs - not to be the biggest or the richest." c. Glenda Revelle, PhD "For about 15 minutes I was Steve Jobs' best friend -- I had his home phone number, his cell phone number, etc. He was just like a little kid with ADHD -- calling me about every five minutes to see whether Sesame Workshop had made a decision yet. I do believe that there is a connection between innovation and ADHD. Steve Jobs was wise enough to surround himself with people who could follow up and follow through on the many, MANY ideas that his creative mind generated." XIII. An uncanny ability to envision how vastly dissimilar elements can be fashioned into a superior well-oiled machine. a. "This is not a one-man show. What's reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there's a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they're not losers. What they didn't have was a good set of coaches, a good plan. A good senior management team. But they have that now." [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998 b. Jobs was more of an orchestral conductor, charismatic and dictatorial, assembling the people and pieces of existing and emerging technology to craft an object of desire that reflected his personal aesthetic and vision for how people and machines should interact. c. It is important to recall that he has no formal training whatsoever: not in management, and certainly not in engineering. Yet many engineers he's worked with are amazed at his capacity to take critical engineering decisions solely based on his instinct. d. "My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other's kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That's how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people." -- Interview with 60 Minutes, 2003 XIV. Become accomplished at one mission; find a new interest. i. "I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what's next. " [NBC Nightly News, May 2006]. XV. A fine aesthetic sense. a. *"Picasso had a saying: 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas...I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world." "I've never believed that they're separate.* Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist and a great scientist. Michelangelo knew a tremendous amount about how to cut stone at the quarry. The finest dozen computer scientists I know are all musicians." b. "Jobs watches as robot hands install the state-of-the-art chips that will power the computer. For a second, he looks almost teary. 'It's beautiful', he says softly. c. Even Bill Gates said it was what he envied most in him: "I'd give a lot to have Steve's taste. I think in terms of intuitive taste, both for people and products, you know, we sat in Mac product reviews where there were questions about software choices, how things would be done, that I viewed as an engineering question, because that's just how my mind works. And I'd see Steve make the decision based on a sense of people and product that is even hard for me to explain. The way he does things is just different, and I think it's magical." XVI. Appears to be arrogant a. "He oozes smug superiority, lacing his public comments with ridicule of Apple's rivals, which he casts as mediocre, evil, and - worst of all - lacking taste." Apple's arrogance also transpires in its advertising, w the whole "I'm a Mac - I'm a PC" campaign, are famous examples of that presumption. b. But not everything Steve does is unconscious. Some of it is totally deliberate: "Steve might be capable of reducing someone to tears," according to NeXT former director Pat Crecine, "but it's not because he's mean-spirited; it's because he's absolutely single minded, almost manic, in his pursuit of quality and excellence." XVII. Can "see" the grand picture a. "No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."[Stanford commencement speech, June 2005] b. "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."[Stanford commencement speech, June 2005] c. "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me . Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful. that's what matters to me." [The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 1993] "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life" - "Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose, you are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.""[Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]