The legend goes that Steve Jobs was a jerk to some of his employees and was downright rude and insensitive. While some saw it as his obsession for detail, others saw him simply as a prodigious jerk.
Yet, his management style and vision have been universally praised. Chances are, if you are reading this digitally, it is on an iPhone, iPad, or a Mac. Over a billion people across the world swear by Apple products, which were born out of one man being a pain in the neck to get things done exactly the way he wanted it done. His way or the highway.
Elon Musk once told GQ magazine that “the one time I met Steve Jobs, he was kind of a jerk.” This was when he was compared to Steve Jobs.
In Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and Space X—a darling of Silicon Valley comes across as an eccentric genius who could also be a stubborn jerk. In the book, Vance describes how Musk is boorish and cold in his professional and his personal life.
Firing a long time assistant is easy for him. His wife realises the marriage is over when her credit card is canceled. Past employees share horror stories of how rude and outright insensitive Musk can be.
Yet, he is rightfully considered by many as one of the greatest technological visionaries amongst us today. The Jerk Leader has come to be seen as a badge of honor by many and as the best way of managing and driving greater productivity from teams.
Recently, Martin Shkreli, the ex-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals was in the news because Martin bought the rights to a life-saving drug and jacked up the price of it. When people requested him to reconsider his decision, he took to Twitter to openly mock everyone and played up his jerk cred. Today, he is out on bail after being charged for securities fraud yet continues to flaunt his behavior with no sense of regret or remorse.
In cricket, the Australian team is notorious for their on-field sledging antics and “do whatever it takes to win” attitude. The Aussies don’t have very many friends in cricketing circles. They have been called racist and bullies. Yet, they boast the best record in cricket in the past three decades and continue to churn out talent that embraces the Australian way. While talent and discipline have been critical to their extraordinary success, their aggressive jerk-like behavior on field has also been a contributor.
No conversation about successful jerks is possible without the mention of the biggest one of them all, the presumed Republican nominee for the President of United States, Donald Trump. Trump has made a killing by being the biggest jerk in town. He has taunted and ridiculed immigrants, women, Democrats and every possible segment of the diaspora that makes the United States of America. He has been outright nasty to fellow contestants and the press. He has thrived by being as rude as a man can possibly be. And yet, he has a 50% chance at being the most powerful man in the world, come November.
If this does not show how the world rewards a jerk, nothing else will.
A few years ago, I used to work with one such jerk who openly insulted our boss, a woman, because he was uncomfortable working for her and because he felt he was passed over in favor of her. As a result, my boss was forced to do extra hours and late nights to compensate for my colleague. This continued for months and in the end, the jerk quit for a much better and higher paying job while my ex-boss continues to stay in a similar job, albeit with a little less stress. The jerk won.
I know, I know. We were all taught to be nice to one another. We preach the same to our kids. We were taught to help everyone. To be nice and polite. Yet, here we are. A dwindling minority in a world where the jerks seem to have it all.
So should we change our colors and embrace the inner jerk in us? Or do we stay the course?
Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy is a tech enthusiast and blogs on various topics from parenting to shopping: rangaprabhu.com.