There’s been some negative press about the Jobs movie, including criticism from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on the accuracy of its portrayal of people and events. Rather than delve into the film’s accuracy, I will say that it spent too much time on boardroom scenes instead of focusing on what moved and motivated Jobs the man. Silicon Valley dinosaurs like me will like the local color (some of which can also be found in the 1999 film Pirates of Silicon Valley) but a wider audience may not connect in the same way. That said, Ashton Kutcher did talk and walk a lot like Steve Jobs (both in the movie and in real life lately), and the film portrayed a few truths about one of the greatest presenters in history:
Steve was comfortable with silence.
The first scene of the film, which shows Jobs’ presentation of the iPod in 2001, reminded me of how deftly Jobs used silence in his presentations. He went quiet to lure his audience with suspense, to convey the seriousness and elegance he brought to these products and to make the audience feel like they were witnessing history. But Jobs also knew not to overuse silence, which could frustrate the audience or make them feel inferior. Like the true design minimalist that he was, he knew how much silence would be just enough.
Steve lived in the “What Could Be” – and that both helped and hurt him.
In a scene early in the film, Jobs and Wozniak present their Apple 2 motherboard to a device manufacturer, who tells them that he was expecting a computer, not just a part. Jobs shows that his mind is always on “What Could Be” when he responds with, “I think you might be really interested in our second model.” This tendency was both a boost for his genius and a potential blind spot he had to overcome. The real Steve Wozniak has said before that Jobs was constantly challenging him and other engineers to stretch what was possible. But the film also showed how Jobs sometimes struggled to connect the “What Is” facts to his “What Could Be” horizon, particularly when he was trying to convince the Apple board that the Macintosh would be successful. However, Jobs certainly grew in his ability to more logically and analytically make the connection between “What Is” and “What Could Be,” and the film doesn’t show that evolution.
Steve’s genius took hard work.
The film shows a Steve Jobs who did whatever it took to achieve his vision, even if that meant cutting ties with former business partners, employees or family members. I’m sure fact is more nuanced than fiction in this case, but whatever Jobs’ personal relations were like during these years, it’s important to remember that Jobs sacrificed a lot to make his vision a reality. He didn’t just wake up a genius; it took hard work. As the film shows, he spent long hours at the office working on product designs and blueprints. As far as his presentations, Jobs was renowned for preparing meticulously, rehearsing every cue, line and stage direction. He understood that presentations must be rehearsed over and over again to be insanely great.
It will be interesting to see how Jobs is portrayed in the next movie, this time penned by Aaron Sorkin. I suspect that no matter how Jobs’ personal life and working relationships are dramatized, the lessons he taught us about presenting brilliantly will endure for many years to come.