Steve Jobs: Success and Self-Destruction

How Magical Thinking Turns on Itself

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Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco, immediately put up for adoption. His adoptive parents raised him just outside Silicon Valley.

He founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976. By 1985, he was ousted from his own company.

Jobs pulled members from Apple and developed a new company called NeXT. He invested in George Lucas to provide capital for his 3D computer-animated film company, Lucasfilm. They created Toy Story with this technology in 1995. This company is known today as Pixar. Jobs saw something in the vision and hardware that few others were looking at. He was already looking beyond rigidity, trying to find the magic.

In 1997, Apple was frightened of what Jobs was doing so they acquired NeXT. The joke was on them because much of NeXT wasn’t really a threat.

In a few months Jobs was CEO of Apple. Within the next few years, Jobs turned Apple into what we see it as today.

He began this advertising campaign revolving around the “Think Different” slogan. Ten years after, Jobs had released the first iPhone, revolutionizing three things:

  1. The removal of the keypad on smartphones, a screen that uses nearly the full length of the phone.
  2. Bringing music to the same device you use to make phonecalls.
  3. Integrating highly sophisticated, yet similar, operating system software to a mobile phone (along with the internet, your favorite applications, text messaging, and the revolutionary touch system we have come to love so much.)

For the first time, Jobs was bringing together entities that the industry thought was impossible at the time.

He put up this quote somewhere in the middle of his iPhone reveal at Macworld in 2007:

“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware” — Alan Kay

A lot of the success of Apple and Jobs was derived from his experiences with psychedelic drugs. He had told a reporter once that dropping LSD was “one of the two or three most important things” he had done in his life.

IMac, iTunes, the iTunes Store, iPod, iPad, iPhone. The list goes on with the technology that Jobs made human. With all of the things that Jobs interconnected seamlessly over the years.

He made technology easy for everyone.

But Jobs’s ego grew alongside his success. Walter Isaacson, who wrote his autobiography, dubbed what he sees as Steve’s “magical thinking”.

Jobs denied being the father of the child he had with Chrisann Brennan. It wasn’t until after he was kicked out of Apple that he “apologized many times over his behavior” and that he “never took responsibility when he should have.”

In late 2003, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing pancreatic cancer. While the prognosis for pancreatic cancer is very poor, Jobs’s was far less aggressive and rare: an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor.

After the diagnosis, he delayed medical intervention for approximately nine months. He relied on alternative medicine and eastern science to cure himself. Harvard researcher Ramzi Amri said that his alternative treatment “led to an unnecessarily early death.”

Most doctors agree that his choice in just diet and eastern medication was insufficient to address his disease.

Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, said that:

“For nine months he refused to undergo surgery for his pancreatic cancer — a decision he later regretted as his health declined.”

Cancer researcher Barrie R. Cassileth said:

“Jobs’s faith in alternative medicine likely cost him his life… He had the only kind of pancreatic cancer that is treatable and curable… He essentially committed suicide.”

Almost every reputable source, including his family, urged him to not delay medical treatment for nearly a year.

The art of magical thinking grew a multi-billion dollar technology company. He had survived his ousting from his own company. He had regained integrity with his daughter and girlfriend.

The drugs he had taken in the past gave him the vision for an unprecedented disruption in how people would interact with their gadgets. He, without exaggeration, changed the world. Despite all his shortcomings, he was nothing short of a magician and a god in the technology industry.

That kind of thinking got him to believe that there was a way out of surgery and western treatment. That there was a way to a cure that didn’t involve the usual science: One that didn’t involve a knife.

He eventually did have surgery in July of 2004. It looked good, but in 2006 the cancer came back. This is when he started to look a lot thinner and more skeletal. The rumors began.

Whether or not the cancer had spread within those initial 9 months, we don’t know with absolute certainty. Most credible researchers and doctors appear to think that the delay contributed to an unnecessary battle Jobs did not need to take.

A mentality Jobs frequently used to achieve his success — only to have that same mentality guide him into an early death.

That’s the thing with magical thinking: It’s only magical when it works.

Written by

UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries: Moumj@berkeley.edu

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