Jeff Salzman and David Riordan take a look at the life and legacy of Steve Jobs. While it remains difficult to answer the question “was Steve Jobs integral?” without actually knowing him at all, it does seem possible that that Steve Jobs may have been an exemplar of Integral leadership — warts and all.
The world became a little bit dimmer last week as the news of Steve Jobs’ death began to circulate across the globe. On a personal level, I was surprised by the weight of the sadness that Steve’s death created within me. I did not know Steve Jobs, I had no personal relationship with him at all, but nonetheless I could feel a palpable loss in my life. The timing of the news was especially painful: I was literally right in the middle of sending out our weekly Integral Life update, which featured a discussion about the intersection of mortality and technology, when I received the first notice of his death—in iChat on my MacBook Pro, no less—leaving a darkly poetic ache in my heart.
I think I felt his death as deeply as I did simply because no one else has influenced my own lower-right quadrant more than Steve Jobs. Every piece of content I’ve produced in recent years, every piece of copy I’ve written, every image that I’ve designed for IntegralLife.com has been created on an Apple computer. The technologies Steve helped bring to life have been some of the most powerful platforms for my own creative process that I’ve ever known. There is something about the elegant balance between form and function that exists in Apple products—a marvelous integration of aesthetics, simplicity, connectivity, and sheer computational power—that continues to catalyze my creativity in astonishing ways.
As Jeff points out, Steve seemed to have been a true “spiral wizard”, meaning he was able to display a mastery over the various stages of consciousness that are available to us:
- He was a powerful post-modern force (GREEN) in the technology world. Steve Jobs was deeply influenced by the American counter-culture of the 60’s and 70’s, he had taken up a strong Buddhist practice, and he described his experience with LSD as one of the “two or three most important things I have done in my life” (and that Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once.”) And really, it’s only natural for a “me-generation” boomer like Steve to put the letter “i” before every single product he releases…. “Think Different” became Steve’s post-modern battle cry, challenging the status quo of modernity in much the same way as his iconic 1984 ad did decades ago.
- Steve’s post-modern sensibilities, however, did not impede upon his constant striving for success and excellence, which are hallmarks of the modern rational stage (ORANGE). When Steve returned as CEO of Apple in 1997, the stock was worth about $5 per share—and as of this moment, Apple is among the most valuable and highly-traded stock in the world, worth more than $400 per share.
- Steve Jobs also created a very strong corporate culture that in many ways depended upon the loyalty and codes of conduct that he instilled upon his work force, which are themselves expressions of the traditional conformist stage of development (AMBER). Put simply, there was the Apple way, and the not-Apple way—and if you were part of the Apple way, you could rest assured that all the trains would run on time, almost to the nano-second.
- Steve also had a remarkable relationship with power (RED). In one sense, he was the philosopher king of Apple—but in another sense, he was the warlord, or even tyrant, according to some. It was Steve’s way or the highway, and if you disagreed, heads would almost certainly roll (though, thankfully, not in a literal sense as with indigenous red cultures). Steve was famously described by Fortune magazine as “one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs,” which is testament to his temperamental and aggressive personality and leadership style.
- Finally, and perhaps most notably, Steve had a profound sense of magic (MAGENTA) and an uncanny ability to infuse this magic into his products (the iPad itself was marketed as “magical and revolutionary”, which it certainly is). This fluency with magical thinking and iconography was an intrinsic part of Apple’s success, which radiates all the way up the spiral and makes Apple products truly stand out from the rest.
Another way to measure the impact of Steve’s legacy is to look to the products themselves through the lens of the Four Quadrants:
While it remains difficult to answer the question “was Steve Jobs integral?” without actually knowing him at all, it does seem possible that that Steve Jobs may have been an exemplar of Integral leadership, warts and all. Of course, we do not want our eulogizing to eclipse some of the more problematic aspects of Steve’s legacy—outsourcing production to China, decreasing corporate philanthropy, creating a centrally-controlled “walled garden” for iPhone and iPad apps that seems to defy the spirit of the famous 1984 ad, etc. Of course, all great figures tend to cast long shadows, but it is one of the truly wonderful capacities of Integral consciousness that we can regard the entire human being, brilliance and blemishes alike. It’s not a matter of weighing the positives against the negatives and figuring out which side prevails—instead, we can honor the totality of Steve’s life, and not feel the need to “cancel out” his contributions with our various misgivings about his legacy.
In recent weeks we have been exploring the nature and implications of the technological singularity, which describes the exponential acceleration of computational technology. In certain ways, Steve Jobs was himself a living personification of the singularity. It’s hard to imagine that it was only just over 10 years ago that we got our very first iPods, irrevocably changing the music industry and the way that we consume entertainment. Only a decade later, we are prepared for the next major stage of technological innovation—the mainstreaming of genuine Artificial Intelligence on the latest iPhones, known as SIRI, due to be released in just a couple days. Make no mistake, this is every bit as revolutionary as the first Apple personal computer, the first iPod, and the first touch-screen iPad tablets—in fact, maybe even more so. Once again, Apple is poised to pull us kicking and screaming into the future, none of which would be possible without Steve Jobs.
Thanks for everything, Steve. Your life was every bit as magical and revolutionary as your products, and the world is a better place because of your passion, your innovation, and your vision. We will miss you.
Written by Corey deVos
About Jeff Salzman
Jeff Salzman worked with Ken Wilber for several years in building the Integral Institute. He is a co-founder of Boulder Integral, the first bricks-and-mortar venue dedicated to the development of integral consciousness. These days Jeff provides integrally-inspired commentary on politics and culture on Integral Life and The Daily Evolver.
About David Riordan
David Riordan is Vice President of Media Development for Integral Life, Inc. David is responsible for managing Integral Life's media business development, including creating compelling and accessible stories in multiple mediums—including online, DVD and motion picture formats.
About Corey deVos
Corey W. deVos is the proverbial "man behind the curtain". He is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996.