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What Steve Jobs means for our jobs

October 10, 2011
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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Now, I never, ever thought I’d be writing a blog on Steve Jobs. About all we seemed to have in common was his name. We both were called “Steve” and I’ve had several “jobs”, even also “stepping down” from one. After all, I’m not too IT savvy and have never used any Apple products, at least as far as I know. But my family is more savvy, and my 2 year old grandson Tamir uses his own iPad.

Right after his death was announced on October 5, my wife, son, and daughter simultaneously called each other. No one thought of me, of course. I was left out. That got me wondering. Should I be caring more about his death, even if I didn’t care much about Apple or computers? Were there aspects of his life that might be of particular relevance to psychiatry? Yes, I think there are.

Privacy and Confidentiality
“A year ago I was diagnosed with cancer”. (All quotes from Steve Jobs)

Mr. Jobs also became well-known in recent years for something in his private life, that is, for refusing to share much about his private life. This silence became of concern to some shareholders of Apple since if he was likely to die anytime soon, the stock value would likely be effected adversely.

This sort of reminds me of threats to the confidentiality of our patients when managed care companies want more and more information to authorize care. A related challenge holds forth with EMRs. The challenge is to protect privacy while at the same time providing enough information that society needs. (And, as an aside, don’t you just wish Mr. Jobs had focused attention on producing really user-friendly EMRs?)

Branding and Stigma
“It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating”.

Apple became an easily recognizable brand name. The story goes that Mr. Jobs told his co-founders that if they couldn’t come up with a better name by the end of the day, he’d go with Apple. Maybe there was an association to the Beatles record label, Apple Records. Or his preferred diet. The bite out of the Apple on the logo seemed to reference Adam and Eve taking bites (or is it bytes?) out of the apples of knowledge. (Now, wisdom from that knowledge is still a whole other matter). Whatever it really was, they had a positive association to their company’s name.

Many businesses use branding companies to help pick their names. Prozac was chosen that way. Given the stigma we have toward psychiatric disorders and mental health care, do we need a new name for what we do? Or a new image? Take the colored Mac personal computers. As Mr. Jobs said, they looked good enough to lick. And, therefore, to use. Remember the prior image of computers: grey, cold, square, plastic number crunchers.

Teamwork and Leadership
“We worked hard and in 10 years Apple had grown from the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees”.

Mr. Jobs obviously recognized the important contributors that various disciplines could make to his vision. Even taking a course in calligraphy ended up enhancing the typography for the Mac. Yet, he also ended up being asked to step down by his Board of Directors, only to return for greater success, and was a notoriously demanding leader. How do we get the best out of our leaders and our teams? Mr. Jobs seemed to find the right balance and interaction.

Vision and Details
“You’ve got to find what you love”.

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...