Steve and the Use of Language

Steve’s magic was working with the people of Apple to create artful products. When you are that deeply committed to your art, sometimes temperament plays a part in your behavior. Most people would find it a major accomplishment to do something life changing. But with Steve, it was ongoing, fired by an unmatchable intensity from the time he and Steve Wozniak started the company.

Steve brought his own personal language to his work, often communicating what he felt with just a word or two—just like the lyrics from the Beatles’ songs “Let It Be” or “Hey Jude.” At the same time, Steve seemed to lack the ability to understand the power he generated—probably the one area that I feel he could be criticized for. We all have a degree of power we need to take into account when dealing with people, whether employees, customers, or others.

From the early days of Apple, Steve never recognized his power, so the challenge was always figuring out what he meant. At any one moment, was he acting as the CEO, the visionary who was thinking way ahead of the market and products, or was he being forceful in pushing everyone to the next level?

Yet the language he used with the people around him was incredibly effective. But it was his language and you needed to understand it. He and I would have big fights—for example, over a product issue or something that was not happening as fast as he wanted—and he’d call me a “bozo.”

It was one of his favorite terms when he was displeased, ...

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