What Can Steve Jobs Teach You About Motivation?

Love him or loathe him, Steve Jobs was one of the best communicators and motivators the world has ever seen. But which traits should we take from him and which should we avoid? Here I examine the pros and cons from the Steve Jobs School Of Management.

The very mention of Steve Jobs can stir up different kinds of emotions in people. Some say genius, others say lunatic. But, love him or loathe him, Steve Jobs was one hell of an innovator. His ideas helped to shape the way future generations interact with each other, whether it be personal computers, telephones or music.


However, behind the spectacular, grandiose presentations and the cutting-edge products, Steve Jobs could also be an extremely polarising boss. Shortly after setting up Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976, it became immediately apparent to would-be stakeholders that as brilliant as he was, Steve Jobs could also be a loose cannon. Mike Markkula, Apple’s first major investor and long-time chairman, brought in Mike Scott as president of the company in 1977 to keep Jobs under control.

Despite the ferocity of his critique, some people were extremely motivated by the bluntness of Jobs, his desire for perfection and his impossibly strong will – famously known as his reality distortion field.   

How do you think you would have fared? Would you have been able to thrive under the famous Jobs tirades, or would you have had to walk away? Let’s examine the pros and cons of the Steve Jobs School Of Management so you can decide which side of the line you would have been on had you been around in the early years of Apple.

Never be satisfied and always strive to be better (Reality Distortion Field)


If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!

Without this mindset Job’s could have well been happy to work on the Apple II back in the 80s. He would have let Jeff Raskin run away and on bad idea to create a cheap 5-inch screen with a paltry microprocessor. He may not have had the foresight to pursue ventures in the animated films, telephony and music industries.


Those who worked with him will vouch that Steve did not settle for mediocrity. When team members delivered their presentations on what they considered the perfect project, Jobs would rip it to shreds. They’d go away, fix his gripes and even make other previously not thought of adjustments. Steve would call it shit and walk away, and, again, they would go away and come back with something better. By giving themselves to his will, his colleagues managed to improve something, thought perfect at first several times over. His unbending will made him strive to create the perfect products, products that were far better than than anyone believed was possible.  


Motivating is one thing, fear mongering is another.

Jobs was argumentative and his persistent negativity towards his colleagues work lead a lot of them to despise him, which doesn’t always make for a very positive or productive workforce. Regardless of how thick your skin is, being constantly told that your first four or five efforts weren’t good enough can have a damaging effect on morale. Finding fault in sloppy work is one thing, it’s a totally separate matter when – like Jobs did – you find imperfections and defects that simply aren’t there.

“He had these huge expectations, and if people didn’t deliver he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t control himself,” explained Ann Bowers, who joined Apple in 1980, in Jobs’ biography. “I could understand why Steve would get upset, and he usually was right, but it had a hurtful effect. It created a fear factor.”   

Show emotion and make it personal


Calling people out and challenging them on a personal level is a tactic much used by Jobs. On most occasions his colleagues stepped up to his challenges and achieved what was asked of them, purely because they would be personally held responsible if it wasn’t done correctly.

Steve Jobs slates Microsoft

It wasn’t just his colleagues that Jobs would get personal with. He had a love hate relationship with Microsoft and  made a number of personal attacks against Bill Gates. Whether it is a direct challenge to teammates or a personal attack on a competitor, bringing emotion into the workplace can generate an amazing work ethic and give the team something to get behind.


Emotional outbursts and individual attacks do not always go down well in the professional world. While some thrive off the pressure, others resent it, especially if it is relentless as it was with Jobs.

With Jobs you were either a “genius” or a “shithead”. As good as it would feel to be on the genius side of the line, it could also be soul destroying to be on the other side of it. Surely it can never be a good thing to have one of your best developers, designers or testers despise you on a personal level.

It’s all in the detail


I would certainly argue that this was Jobs’ trademark. He would not accept even the smallest imperfection in any of his products. When you set this kind of tone it is infectious when it is implemented into a project with such rigid strictness. Remove it and you end up with a 4% share in the home computer market!


Unsurprisingly, most of the time Steve took details to the extreme. Attention to detail is great, but picking holes in something and looking for problems that just aren’t there is counterproductive. His hypercritical attention to detail resulted in boosted sales for Apple, but he had the financial flexibility to pull it off. Time is money and most companies do not have the resources to waste on such minor details.

Creative spark


Jobs combined the beauty of the arts with technology. His aim was to bring complex technology to the market that was super easy for the everyday household to understand and use. Just take the innovation of the iPod, he thought outside the box with his ideas and his unique style of management motivated his team to bring the fruition.

apple mac

Jobs always took his own path, compelling his team to follow him. He inspired them to work 90 hour weeks in pursuit of success because he challenged them creatively. The excitement of working on something that had never been seen before created a buzz that kept them going. If a manager is afraid to be creative and follow his own path, teams can lose interest.


Walking your own path can sometimes lead you to walk straight off a cliff if you do not have the confidence of your colleagues and backers. The first Macintosh had some fantastic creative (in some cases stolen) features and NeXT was an extremely creative company, but neither were a huge financial success, partly due to the amount of money Jobs spent on endless experiments with his creative ideas. Unless you have a huge source of capital it could well be worth leaving the creative gambles to somebody else.
There you have it, the unique style of Steve Jobs! So what is your opinion of the legendary innovator? Was Jobs nothing more than a clever marketing whizz who took the plaudits for other people’s work, or was he a genius leader able to drive people far and beyond their limitations?     

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Thinking Thrifty

David Naylor is the editor of the Thinking Thrifty blog. After a striking realisation about the direction his life was heading he set himself a 15 year plan to achieve total financial freedom. Join the journey!

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