Steve Jobs. Creative genius and cult leader

Obituary notes on Steve Jobs by Tudor Rickards

Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011) was a modern phenomenon for his creative achievements which did so much to create a global corporation, and maybe a cult of devoted followers

It is hard to find anything new to say about Steve Jobs [Image right with one of his most celebrated innovations, the i-Phone].

His life has become a story so widely shared that it has become part of a common platform of understanding.

His genius will be rightly lauded and his fame deserved. His greatest creation was the Apple corporation. I had been working on a post about Steve Jobs at the time of his death, and the following draws on my unpublished notes.

Apple as a cult

A BBC documentary [May 2011] suggested that Apple produces brain reactions in followers akin to those experienced in religious believers. It started from the interesting premise that Apple goes in for a lot of religious imagery. It was fairly easy to see the point that was being made. It also accorded with part of the Jobs story that Apple devotees can become evangelical.

Bad science

Web-comment was largely dismissive. The BBC programme had focussed on one addicted Apple user whose brain scan seems to show stimulation akin to those identified with a state of religious ecstasy. But the point being made is not entirely without merit. Much has been discovered by an imaginative leap based on observation of an exceptional medical case, or even a scientific observation.

A Jobsian cult?

One article went to town on the metaphor

A team of British neuroscientists has confirmed what IT atheists have known for years – that the brains of Jobsian cult members respond to the sight of Apple products in much the same way that religious believers respond to religious imagery. In a recent BBC documentary, Secrets of the Superbrands the neuroscientists ran an MRI scan on the brain of Alex Brooks, the editor of World of Apple, who claims that the Jobsian cult is “definitely” on his mind 24 hours a day. They discovered that photos of things like the iPhone and the iPad make certain parts of his brain all tingly.
“We see quite an amount of changes in the brain when he’s actually looking at Apple products, ” explained professor Gemma Calvert, a neuroscientist at the University of Warwick. “There’s much more activity in the visual cortex, an enhanced visual attention, if you like, to Apple products.” Much the same thing occurs, she explained, when holy imagery is shown to religious zealots.

Cultish leadership

Professor Dennis Tourish of the University of Kent has been exploring what he calls cultish leadership which appears to be an extreme manifestation of charismatic leadership . He has documented the Enron case and Scientology as manifesting cult-like properties.

Followership

Another emerging trend in leadership studies is that of followership. Here there has been renewal of an idea promoted by Ghandi who urged people to the perspective of self-development as ‘followers of self’. Ghandi remarked in this context that he was pretty bad at following his own goals and ideals. Maybe we have to look more closely at the conditions of extreme followership, be it of Steve Jobs or of the latest celebrity phenomenon.

To go more deeply

The BBC later [Oct 10th 2011] wrote more on the personality cult surrounding Steve Jobs

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4 Responses to Steve Jobs. Creative genius and cult leader

  1. The Drum Opinion (ABC) captures the early reactions globally to the death of someone hailed as a successor to Henry Ford and Edison.

  2. samer al salhi says:

    The question in my mind is will Steve Job’s culture be sustained after his departure? from a leadership perspective does the leader’s presence affect directly his followers actions? What kind of following behavior will be on (does spiritual leadership work as the physical one) ?

  3. Samer asks important questions. I would approach them from the perspective (or ‘map’) which treats leadership as the management of meaning.

    Within Apple, the understanding of Jobs may change over time, either through deliberate efforts or more emergently.

    Charisma has been studied including the question of whether it can be sustained over time in the direct physical absence of the leader. This is known to be the case for religious leaders/pioneers.

    When we talk of Steve Jobs as a cult leader it is a metaphor for what is believed to be the features of religious cults.

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