Taking Steve Jobs off the GOATS list
Following the path of the greats isn’t always the best idea
I came up with the GOATs (Greatest of All Times) list decision-making process during my sophomore year at MIT. It quickly became my go-to guide for making tough life decisions. In the beginning, there were only three GOATs. Lady Gaga and Eminem were tier one, and Charlie Sheen was tier two. The GOATs process involved complex Bayesian analysis, but the basics of it were this: whenever I couldn’t decide what to do, I would ask myself, “What would Lady Gaga and Eminem do in this situation?” If they would do the same thing, I went with that. If there was no clear consensus, Charlie Sheen was the tiebreaker.
My first year and a half at MIT had been somewhat miserable. The GOATs process changed my life. Following it pushed me toward qualities I desperately needed to improve — for instance, Lady Gaga’s confidence in her ability to change society, Eminem’s ability to not take things in life too seriously, and Charlie Sheen’s willingness to take risks. I went to parties. I crossed the street when the pedestrian light was red. I almost even asked a girl out. One of my friends didn’t like the GOATs list and kept telling me that I shouldn’t try to be like other people, but the GOATs process rarely steered me wrong.
Then I got a Mac.
The touch pad. The magnetic power cord. The chiclet keyboard. It was all so awesome that I had to spend hours upon hours watching Steve Jobs videos on YouTube. “An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator” became one of my favorite quotes. I began to regret choosing the HTC Evo 4G over the iPhone 4. I couldn’t deny it any longer: Steve Jobs was a GOAT.
However, the GOATs process was having such a positive impact on my life that I didn’t want to risk messing it up. So I created an entirely new tier — tier three — containing just Steve Jobs. This way he wouldn’t really affect the GOATs process because he would only matter in the event that there was no clear consensus among Lady Gaga and Eminem, and it was unclear what Charlie Sheen would do.
However, the more I used my Macbook Pro and the more YouTube videos I watched, the more I became obsessed with Steve Jobs. Even though he was de jure tier three, he became de facto tier zero. Eventually, he completely usurped the entire GOATs list decision-making process. I used to want to be a “changer.” Now I wanted to “Steve Jobs.” Whatever that meant.
I became increasingly insecure that I would ever Steve Jobs. I never considered myself an artist, I didn’t know anything about marketing or business, and I barely knew anything about hardware. Bill Gates once said that Steve Jobs had “a sense of people and product that is even hard for me to explain.” I wished Bill Gates could explain. How could I possibly Steve Jobs when I didn’t even know what I was trying to do!?
I became so insecure about my perceived inadequacy at Steve Jobsing that I felt a lot better about myself whenever I did anything that could be spun as Steve Jobs-like. This tendency was at its worst when I was working with two of my friends on our final 6.170 (Software Studio) project. Steve Jobs had opinions, so I would make poorly thought-out assertions about why certain websites are popular. Steve Jobs focused on the little things, so I would constantly interrupt my friends while they were coding in order to bring up relatively unimportant issues. Steve Jobs was always the guy who announced the product, so when one of my friend was about to explain our project to another friend, I interrupted him and explained it instead. I tried to get my friends to let me dress in blue jeans and a black turtleneck and give our final presentation as if I were Steve Jobs. Overall, I was an absolutely terrible partner.
By the end of the project, I felt awful about myself. All semester, we had been looking forward to finally working together on the final project; we kept talking about how awesome it would be to sit there together working on the same thing that we all cared about, listening to music, and coding until it got late. My insecurities about Steve Jobsing ruined this. By the end of the final project, we just met up, partitioned work, and then went home to code alone. It was all my fault. The worst part is that these were my two best friends. Whenever I felt bad about something, I would talk to them. But I couldn’t even do that. I was afraid they wouldn’t even want to hang out with me any more.
One night, I couldn’t go to sleep. I just lay in bed, feeling bad. That is when I realized what trying to Steve Jobs had turned me into. When I followed the GOATs process, I ended up being pushed toward qualities that made my life better. However, a lot of the personality traits Steve Jobs is best known for have wildly negative downsides. On top of this, after learning more about him, I realized that so many of the things I had attributed solely to Steve Jobs were really team efforts. I had never even heard of Jony Ive (who’s in charge of industrial design at Apple) until Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO, and I felt bad for attributing such an unfairly small percentage of my Macbook Pro’s awesomeness to people other than Steve Jobs.
Don’t get me wrong — I still think Steve Jobs is awesome; when he died, it was devastating. Up to that point, I hadn’t missed a single class all semester, but the next morning, I didn’t even get out of bed. On top of that, there are a lot of useful things I learned from having Steve Jobs as a role model. For instance, I learned a lot from his thought process; the question “What is the purpose of a ___?” has been one of the most useful approaches to me for analyzing certain problems.
However, I feel like I can now look at him more objectively. He’s no longer an undeniable GOAT, so there’s no need to mess with the proven results of the three-person GOATs process.
For now, he’s off the list.