Steve Jobs. Creative genius and cult leader

October 6, 2011

Obituary notes on Steve Jobs by Tudor Rickards

Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011) was a modern phenomenon for his creative achievements which did so much to create a global corporation, and maybe a cult of devoted followers

It is hard to find anything new to say about Steve Jobs [Image right with one of his most celebrated innovations, the i-Phone].

His life has become a story so widely shared that it has become part of a common platform of understanding.

His genius will be rightly lauded and his fame deserved. His greatest creation was the Apple corporation. I had been working on a post about Steve Jobs at the time of his death, and the following draws on my unpublished notes.

Apple as a cult

A BBC documentary [May 2011] suggested that Apple produces brain reactions in followers akin to those experienced in religious believers. It started from the interesting premise that Apple goes in for a lot of religious imagery. It was fairly easy to see the point that was being made. It also accorded with part of the Jobs story that Apple devotees can become evangelical.

Bad science

Web-comment was largely dismissive. The BBC programme had focussed on one addicted Apple user whose brain scan seems to show stimulation akin to those identified with a state of religious ecstasy. But the point being made is not entirely without merit. Much has been discovered by an imaginative leap based on observation of an exceptional medical case, or even a scientific observation.

A Jobsian cult?

One article went to town on the metaphor

A team of British neuroscientists has confirmed what IT atheists have known for years – that the brains of Jobsian cult members respond to the sight of Apple products in much the same way that religious believers respond to religious imagery. In a recent BBC documentary, Secrets of the Superbrands the neuroscientists ran an MRI scan on the brain of Alex Brooks, the editor of World of Apple, who claims that the Jobsian cult is “definitely” on his mind 24 hours a day. They discovered that photos of things like the iPhone and the iPad make certain parts of his brain all tingly.
“We see quite an amount of changes in the brain when he’s actually looking at Apple products, ” explained professor Gemma Calvert, a neuroscientist at the University of Warwick. “There’s much more activity in the visual cortex, an enhanced visual attention, if you like, to Apple products.” Much the same thing occurs, she explained, when holy imagery is shown to religious zealots.

Cultish leadership

Professor Dennis Tourish of the University of Kent has been exploring what he calls cultish leadership which appears to be an extreme manifestation of charismatic leadership . He has documented the Enron case and Scientology as manifesting cult-like properties.


Another emerging trend in leadership studies is that of followership. Here there has been renewal of an idea promoted by Ghandi who urged people to the perspective of self-development as ‘followers of self’. Ghandi remarked in this context that he was pretty bad at following his own goals and ideals. Maybe we have to look more closely at the conditions of extreme followership, be it of Steve Jobs or of the latest celebrity phenomenon.

To go more deeply

The BBC later [Oct 10th 2011] wrote more on the personality cult surrounding Steve Jobs

Leadership as it happens: Notes as David Cameron addresses his party

October 5, 2011

The following notes were made as David Cameron was addressing his Party, in October 2011. My immediate reactions are included

15.07 Its start suggests careful ‘both anding‘. Each assertion being made is carefully balanced. The moral rightness of acting in Libya, and it also in our best interests. Some humourous references made to a story from yesterday of the cat who kept an illegal immigrant in the UK; and to Boris Johnson’s popularity as a leader in waiting.

15.08 warms to theme of leadership. Illustrates with themes of “leadership works”.

15.12 Why the only way out of the debt crisis is ‘Plan A’ and living within our means (Is this the re-draft of the leaked suggestion about trying to pay off credit cards?).

15.14 ‘This country will never join the Euro’ (Applause).

15.18 ‘We are the party of the NHS’. (Compared with both Labour and Lib Dems).

15.20 (There is a main theme emerging. It is about sticking to Plan A. Polished asides add interest and glitter).

15.22 Workers rights are less important than having the right to a job

15.24 Seems a bit more confusing with its lists of why ‘this country’ is innovative and great, and assertions about the need for various radical ways to release innovation

15.28 We are going to get this country back to work…(not the feckless labour party).

15.29 Education has been infected by an ideology..I understand ..we can tranform education by good leadership. Leadership works

15.32 We have great private schools. let it be us be the party that deals with the apartheid of Pivate and State schools

15.34 we will clamp down on illegal immigration.

15.36 we are going to spend over 1000 pounds to get people back to work. No previous Government did it (i.e. £1000 per person for some unspecified number of people).

15.38 Acknowledges our great leaders esp Margaret Thatcher. We don’t boo our leaders (reference to Miliband and the Tony Blair boos. ‘But didn’t you sack Margaret Thatcher?’ I wondered)

15.40 Still seems to be mostly operating in low gear.

15.42 Leadership (again) in the family. Spoke for ‘support of gay marriage not despite being a conservative but because I am a conservative.

15.44 Spoke about social gains in nearby Wythenshaw. (Not an unqualified view it seems to me).

15.46 Making things happen. That is what we do. That’s what leadership is about.

An immediate reaction

That’s it. The theme of leadership ran through the speech. It was rather a surprise.

Recycling: Plastic Bottles turned into Houses in Nigeria

October 5, 2011

An environmental project is recycling plastic bottles into houses in Nigeria. The system was pioneered by German environmentalist Andreas Froese, and similar schemes are springing up globally

One pilot house has been constructed in Kaduna, Nigeria in which plastic bottles were filled with sand and stuck together using mud rather than cement.  The process is designed to withstand severe environmental conditions.

The Project

A report in Vanguard Nigeria describes the project:

Katrim Macmillam launched Nigeria’s bottle recycling programme in December 2010. This is a programme in which plastic bottles and their lids are collected from hotels, restaurants, homes and offices.

According to Yahaya Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, Development Association for Renewable Energies (DARE), “We set out to build energy-autonomous houses from recycled materials. In order to facilitate the project, Andres Froesse, founder of Eco-Tec Soluciones Ambientales, was sent to Nigeria to train local masons in the bottle building technique”.

Chris Vassilou, the Project Manager, donated the first land for the bottle house build. Features in the bottle house include solar powered with fuel-sufficient clean cookstove, urine filtration fertilization systems and water purification tanks, thereby, making it energy autonomous. Currently, school children are being trained in the bottle brick-making technique. The newly trained masons will lead the build by January 2012 in the next Nigerian bottle project, which will be a school hall in Suleja, at an African school which urgently needs classroom space.

The Bottle-house pioneers

Bottle House technology has attracted pioneers who are believers in the potential of the process for environmental reasons. One such group includes environmentalist AmenZen who writes:

In my quest for alternatives that would allow me to recycle all trash and feel good about it, since 2003, I encountered the Portable Landfill Device [the bottle brick idea] and mentioned it on my website.

My friend Pato told me about bottle-bricks stuffed with plastic that he saw in his trip to the call of the condor in Perú by 2005 when we lived in Gratamira Ecovillage in Medellín, Colombia.
Then I saw the work of the Colombian Parmaculturist Daniel Jaramillo and Sara in their project Colombia Sostenible building a composting toilet unit with bottle brick walls in an island in the Colombian Caribbean. I also tested the idea when I went Santa Cruz del Islote, in the Caribbean, to help in a Health Brigade and to do a shore, underwater and town cleanup.

There was no garbage trucks to pick it up litter and  I didn´t have any trash bags. Empty plastic bottles were everywhere. With the help of the children and later meetings with the elders, the idea seemed to be worth trying.

A few years back I had seen the work of Andreas Froesse building incredible structures in a park with bottle bricks filled with sand or urbanite in Honduras. I lost track of him until he came to Colombia to teach and build a bathing pool for a hotel with sand- filled bottle bricks in 2005. I asked him if he would consider building with the bottlebricks filled with trash, and from them on we have been experimenting with the technique of reducing landfill waste and
using it for building.

Servant Leadership?

The innovative vision of Andreas Froesse seems to be developing momentum. Other pioneers seem to capture the altruistic spirit of servant leadership.  However, critics will suggest that the scheme is self-limiting, and dependent on the environmentally-unfriendly technology involved in the manufacture of PET plastic bottle. The schemes will require further creative leadership to achieve the dreams of the visionaries.


Image is from Solar Feeds

To go more deeply

See also
Sam Olukoya’s BBC report on the bottle Houses of Nigeria

World Architecture News

The Economist nails superheroes

October 2, 2011

The Economist pulls together a growing body of opinion that Superleader CEOs are rarely worth the money they are paid. It is a view that stretches back at least as far as Thomas Carlyle

The Economist article [October 1st -7th, 2011] makes enjoyable reading for its irreverant attack on the myth of the superleader.  It pulls together ideas that have been bobbing about in the waves of critical theory of leadership for some time.

Companies can point to one strong piece of evidence in favour of hiring outsiders: share prices usually leap at the news. But a gathering pile of academic studies points to the opposite conclusion…. [In an unpublished paper] Richard Cazier of Texas Christian University and John McInnis of the University of Texas at Austin bring a new level of rigour to the debate.  They discovered that the pay premium of CEOs is negatively correlated with the future performance of the firm that does the hiring. In other words: the more dazzling the outside recruit, the worse he performs in his new role.

This may be because superstars have an inflated opinion of their own abilities. They assume all the credit for the success of their previous firm, when in fact many others were involved. And they imagine that they can transform a corporate culture single-handed. Usually, they can’t. The authors observe that the tendency to hire CEOs who have done well elsewhere is most common among firms “with busy and inattentive boards”.

Feet of Clay?

The text book Dilemmas of Leadership traces the rise and fall of the heroic leader. The concept received a blow through the epithet  that ‘no man is a a hero to his valet’.  New Leadership theories have increased suspicion of the dark side of charisma, and the benefits of distributed leadership.

The new form of Superleader

Nor should we forget the concept that organisational leadership may be mythologised but in practice is often widely distributed. The superhero is now more usefully regarded as the sum of efforts of a team rather than through a charismatic individual, however well-superannuated.