Would You Hire Steve Jobs? The Limitations of Emotional Intelligence Based Hiring

 

This is a job application that Steve Jobs, yes the Steve Jobs of Apple fame, filled out in 1973. As you’ve probably noticed, it is filled out in a way that demonstrates a limited ability to take on another person’s perspective (i.e., it has no address, contact information, or desired position). It also demonstrates a very literal interpretation of the information required (i.e., Question: access to transportation? Answer: Possible not probable). Needless to say, Mr. Jobs later reported that he didn’t get the job.

Instead, he moved on to become a scruffy college drop-out who “looked like a hippie and smelled so bad that Atari had to assign him to the night shift in order keep him as an employee and placate co-workers who complained repeatedly that he seldom showered or used a deodorant.”  

Walter Isaacson, the author of the best selling biography of Jobs, wrote that the negatives went beyond this. He states that Steve Jobs had shown himself to be “arrogant”, “a dreadful manager” and “a major, world-class jerk.” Job’s inappropriate behaviour and tantrums in the workplace are legendary. Technology writer and one-time Apple employee David Coursey reports that Jobs would park his Mercedes in handicapped [sic] spaces, reduce subordinates to tears and fire employees in angry tantrums. In fact, Economic Times writer Gordon MacDonald states that “Jobs was a man with limited people skills. In his haste to fulfill his visions, he could be intimidating, obnoxious, intolerant, impatient, profane, and offensive.” However, there is no denying his special brand of genius.

Although there are no reports of a formal diagnosis, Steve Jobs is often thought to have lived on the Autism Spectrum. If looking at this application is not enough to convince you, his high IQ paired with difficulties with social interaction; his obsession with detail and perfection; and his penchant for ‘thinking differently’ are all clues that he may have fit the profile. In fact, Dr. Temple Grandin, herself a famous and successful person who lives on the spectrum, has publicly stated that she feels Jobs also lived on the spectrum.

It’s likely that if Jobs and his only friend Steve Wolaniak had not had the fortitude to build their own computer in his Parents’ garage and launch into the world of entrepreneurship, Steve Jobs might have never have been able to keep employment long term.  Recent statistics report that approximately 85% of people who live on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed.  If you have taken this to mean that often, brilliant and gifted people are finding themselves in a situation where they cannot financially support themselves, you are correct. If you have taken this to mean that often, gifted brilliant people who are full of gifts and a special brand of insight are left standing in line to receive public assistance rather than thriving in a supportive work environment where they can contribute their gifts to society while being challenged to grow; you would be correct. Back in the ‘70’s there weren’t a lot of options for an employee like Steve Jobs, but in this day and age, many of these socially based challenges can be solved with the support of an employment coach who specialises in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The challenge with emotional intelligence as the sole criteria for hiring is a challenge of limited thinking. Genius often lies on the other side of limitation. Management Guru Peter Drucker, teaches an overriding principle to successful hiring:

Hire people for their strengths, not their absence of weaknesses.

Avoiding weakness, Drucker explains in his classic The Effective Executive, will at best produce mediocrity.

Is your organization losing out on amazing talent because of awkward social skills or inappropriate workplace behaviour in an employee? Do you need help retaining some of your smartest, most technically savvy employees? Often, what appears to be an attitude problem in a high value employee is really a communication problem. We can help! 

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