The One Thing Steve Jobs And Donald Trump Have In Common
One Person’s Craziness Is Another Person’s Reality
Steve Jobs was a special kind of crazy. He had to have been. For someone to sit in a tiny garage in the middle of California with a couple of friends and think that the home computer, a boxy thing with some assembly required, could change the world was beyond fantasy. Computers weren’t for regular people. They were specialized, complicated, expensive. Few could understand them. Fewer still could afford them. That was the reality.
But Steve was crazy.
Most took the world as it was. He didn’t. What people called reality, Steve called fiction. Where they saw normalcy, he saw opportunity. And so, slowly, steadily, Steve bent people to his will. Friends first, then others, convincing them with the idealistic futurism he saw was inevitable, and the world in front of them obsolete. His was the path forward, and they should follow him on it.
That first step changed everything. Not only did it transform the world, but propel Apple out of the garage and into the limelight as the most successful corporation in the history of capitalism.
Similarly, Donald Trump has no patience for things as they are. He sees a bright future laid out in front of him, and America too, from underneath the brim of his red and white baseball hat. But it is obstructed by narrow-mindedness, by leaders lacking vision and conviction. Through force of will and with fiery rhetoric, Trump lays out his pitch: he can plot a path out of the wilderness the country finds itself in, toward a new reality. What’s more, the destination is one that is shining and bright and great again. And he can take you there. All it takes is a single step.
It is a message that continues to resonate with millions of Republican voters. Indeed, long before the first ballots were cast, Trump began to shape the primary and the party in his image. While others were lining up to court constituents based on faith or cultural beliefs, Trump announced his candidacy for president by claiming Mexico was deliberately funneling rapists and murders into the United States. He responded to a rival’s rising poll numbers by calling for a major faith to be barred from entering the country. And when he’s not courting white supremacists, he has routinely pushed or published information he knows to be both factually and morally wrong on Twitter and television, earning billions of free media exposure in the process.
But the falsehoods don’t matter, and the charges never stick. Because when Trump stands at a podium and delivers one of his patented red-faced diatribes on trade or China or combatting terrorism overseas, complete with catchy call-and-response audience hooks like your favourite Greatest Hits album, the temperature in the building rises, supporters’ hollers grow louder, and the ratings climb higher.
That’s because, like Steve, Trump is a master showman who knows how to barter, lecture and lie to crowds to get them on his side, even if it doesn’t serve their interests. And it is more than simple pandering. The beauty of Trump’s ability to manipulate is how easily and firmly others latch on to his words and call them their own. His message is simple, his soundbites digestible, and his quotes cathartic. He’s not telling them what they want to hear. He’s telling it like it is. In reality. Even if “it” isn’t true, even if his version of reality never existed, he makes it feel that way. So convincingly does he pontificate from the stump it can be difficult to tell if Trump even truly believes the things he says himself.
Both men have a skill, powered by charisma and honed over decades, that lets people feel a connection to them and drop their guard. In business and politics alike, it has a name: the reality distortion field. It is what allowed Jobs to lie about everything from new product developments to his failing health, and lets Trump continue to rack up victories despite having no political experience, credentials or expertise — he’s too authentic for such things, after all. As it stands, Trump seems all but assured to be the Republican nominee for president, an outcome that was laughable a year ago before the pundit class realized the reality TV star was running a post-fact campaign that thrived on their derision of him. And it is because he’s able to distort the world, and convince the people around him to follow a path only he can lead them down.
It is often said that the greatest thing Jobs ever produced was not a phone or laptop but Apple itself, an organization with a culture so flexible yet confident in its guiding ethos it could move seemlessly between products and maintain its unique ability to innovate and succeed. We are finding out, long after it was predicted to peak, that Trump’s candidacy is made of much of the same durability. And it is because Trump knows now what Steve knew then: if you can convince people of your vision of tomorrow, they’ll believe anything today.