Thoughts on Steve Jobs’ Ennea-type

Mario Sikora
Mar 6, 2012
Assessing other people’s Ennea-types is tricky business, and the only thing more problematic than ennea-typing public figures is not doing so. 

   Let me explain:

   First, it is best if people identify their own type. 

   Second, it is very difficult to get a sense of someone’s type unless you know them pretty well and see them in a variety of environments.

   Third, it can lead to distracting debates and discussions. (Once, while giving a workshop in Milan in the shadow of the Duomo, someone pointed out that we identified Mother Theresa as a Two and John Paul II as a One in our book “Awareness to Action.” A nun in the audience vehemently disagreed. As I looked at her, I could see the Duomo, one of the grandest cathedrals in the world, through the window over her shoulder. Given the context, I admitted that my assessments were only hypotheses and that I would defer to her greater authority.) 

   Despite these challenges, when teaching the Enneagram, especially in a business environment, the request for examples of the Ennea-types is impossible to avoid. Exemplars can be great aids to understanding the types, providing substance on the theoretical structure of generic descriptions of the types. While I’ve gone back and forth over the years, feeling an internal Hamlet-esque vacillation on whether or not to provide public examples for illustration, I’ve ultimately concluded that it is a useful exercise but that it must be done humbly with an understanding that any such assessment is a provisional hypothesis based on limited data, and that such assessments are to be held lightly.

All of this leads me to the point of this blog: an assessment of Steve Jobs’ Ennea-type. I begin with all the caveats listed above–I never met Mr Jobs; my assessment is based on external observations of him in interviews and videos and reading about him; and I hold this assessment lightly. I make it nonetheless because I believe Jobs was a Four, and examples of Fours that are palatable in the business world are challenging to find. So I share these thoughts in case they are useful for others who use the Enneagram in that domain.

What do I know about Jobs that makes me think he is an Ennea-type Four (which I define as “striving to be Unique”)?

  •         According to leadership personality guru Robert Hogan, Jobs’ key weakness as a leader was his tendency toward erratic emotional outbursts (http://www.ipacweb.org/conf/09/hogan.pdf).
  •         I had a client some years ago who lived in the same neighborhood as who told me that Jobs refused to put a license plate on his car as a deliberate mark of his uniqueness and unconventionality. I never fully believed the story, but Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs confirms it. (“Opting Out of Overoptimism” by Michael Shermer, Scientific American, March 2012, p. 78).
  •         Also according to Isaacson, Jobs believed that the “rules didn’t apply to him… He had a sense that he was special, a chosen one, an enlightened one.” (ibid)
  •       “Think Different” was Apple’s advertising slogan from 1997 through 2007. Apple traditionally positioned itself as the outsider, the anti-Microsoft, a scrappy rebel far hipper and more creative than the competition. Perhaps more than any other major corporation, Apple’s culture was a direct reflection of its CEO’s temperament. That culture emphasizes elegance of design, rebellion, creativity, and an unwillingness to follow convention in management, strategy, or product development. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_Different)
  •             Profiles of Jobs have always portrayed him as someone volatile, demanding,  and perfectionistic in his expectations of others and the products they developed but, as we have seen, not believing the rules applied to him. He was widely viewed as shy and reclusive, but also as a very aggressive businessman with a clear, distinct vision of what the product should be. He famously said that he didn’t do customer research because people didn’t know what they wanted until he told them what they wanted. In other words, he saw it as his responsibility to have a vision of what a given product should be, and he assumed that others would find that vision compelling.
  •         For Jobs, the aesthetics of the customer experience was almost as important as the functionality of the product. One of the reasons that Apple’s products are so expensive–beyond their ability to command a premium because of their reputation–is that the aesthetics of the products require internal components that are more expensive to produce, thus raising production costs per unit. Even the package of Apples products are elegant in their zen-like simplicity and expensive materials.
  •             Jobs had profound resentment of Microsoft and demonized the company for years (which was so much more successful for so many years). In particular, he derided Bill Gates as lacking creativity and as someone who “never invented anything.” (Gates countered that Jobs was “‘fundamentally odd’ and ‘weirdly flawed as a human being.'”) (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2055347/Bill-Gates-brushes-Steve-Jobs-criticism-praising-late-competitor.html#ixzz1oHu4Opdp)
  •            Jobs’ much-publicized 2005 Stanford commencement address (easily available on youtube.com) could not be more Four-ish if it had been written by the author of an Enneagram book. Yes, it is ultimately inspiring and uplifting (sort of), but the themes are: 
                                  Rejection–from being an unwanted child to dropping out of college because he couldn’t afford it to being fired from Apple. 

                                  Aesthetics–talking about how the qualities of calligraphy influenced so much of what he later did. 

                                  The importance of your search for your own unique identity–“Don’t be trapped by dogma;” “don’t let others’ opinions drown out your inner voice;” and, finally, this gem: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

                                  (I won’t emphasize the overriding theme of death in the speech, even though I think it is relevant. Yes, he had just survived his first bout with cancer, but one must ask if, say a One or a Seven would speak this way. Further, the states that he started focusing on his impending death at 17, long before the cancer struck.)

  •          Finally, and this is very superficial, I grant you–the guy wore a black shirt EVERY DAY! Do only Fours wear black? Of course not. But still…
Arguments against Steve Jobs being a Four emphasize that he was an aggressive businessman and that he had a perfectionistic streak. 

    The aggressiveness, despite the stereotypes of timid Fourness, is consistent with many of the Fours I know and have worked with, especially those of the sexual subtype. (I refer to the “sexual” subtype as “Transmitting” because this instinct domain is focused on replication of some aspect of the self; Jobs was certainly trying to replicate his vision through his work. The sexual Four often brings an aggressive, artistic or creative work to the business world and can often seem almost Eightish in their ambition and drive.

    As I already mentioned, the perfectionism in Jobs was far more related to his expectations of other than it was to a forceful superego as would be found in many Ones. (Sandra Maitri discusses this “One-ish” quality of Fours very nicely in “The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram.”)

   Neither the aggression or the outward-directed perfectionism are inconsistent with the behavior of many Fours.

   In closing, I offer this list of performance derailers for Type Four, problematic behaviors that are often seen in people of that type. The list appears in our book, “Awareness to Action” and was originally published in “The Enneagram Monthly” in 2005. It is often easiest to identify someone’s Ennea-type by seeing the ways they go off track. Based on my readings about Jobs, the list seems relevant. 

·      Rebellion for rebellion’s sake: Anger at not feeling “special” causes you to act out and rebel against sources of authority and the status quo.

·      Making it different: Desire to be seen as unique causes you to separate your way of doing things from the way that everyone else does things, whether this adds value or not. This sometimes means you make things more complicated than they need to be.

·      Aggression: Frustration with feeling misunderstood or with others not behaving in the way you expect sometimes leads to aggressive overcompensation.

·      Insistence on being right: Insistence on being right; defensiveness about position; hostile negativity toward other opinions or ways of doing things.

·      Drama: Excessive displays of emotion; often making problems and slights out to be greater than they really are.

·      Resentment: Hostility toward and downplaying of accomplishments of others; feeling that you are not appreciated for your special qualities and others are getting all the credit or lucky breaks.

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