Messing with Fate: The Real Magic of Steve Jobs

Messing with Fate: The Real Magic of Steve Jobs


Shortly after launching the Apple I, in 1976, Steve Jobs had the “ah-ha” moment that would change the world. Jobs had decided that computers should come as a complete package. Jobs and his co-founder Steve Wozniak had sold a couple hundred of their first computer, the Apple I, but the Apple I could hardly be called a finished product. It comprised of a circuit board with no power supply, no keyboard, no monitor and no case. As a result, the market ended at computer hobbyists.

Jobs’ big insight was that the Apple II need to be a fully “integrated consumer product” that could be sold to the average consumer. It needed to be ready to go out of the box with a keyboard, monitor, power supply, all beautifully wrapped up in a moulded plastic case. But, to achieve this he needed cash. After approaching a number of venture capitalists, he connected with Mike Markkula an ex-Intel executive who was enamoured by the Apple II prototype, and hence, invested $250,000. This enabled the two founders to turn their hobby into a business. Unfortunately, the brilliant co-founder and engineering genius Steve Wozniak wasn’t interested. He refused to quit his full-time job at HP. While Markkula shrugged and said okay, Jobs refused to take no for an answer. Walter Isaacson explains Jobs’ reaction in his new biography, Steve Jobs:

He cajoled Wozniak; he got friends to try to convince him; he cried, yelled, and threw a couple of fits. He even went to Wozniak’s parents’ house, burst into tears, and asked Jerry for help. “I started getting phone calls at work and home from my dad, my mom, my brother, and various friends, “ Wozniak recalled. “Every one of them told me I’d made the wrong decision.” None of that worked. Then Allen Baum, their Buck Fry Club mate at Homesead High, called. “You really ought to go ahead and do it,” he said. He argued that if he joined Apple full-time, he would not have to go into management or give up being an engineer. “That is exactly what I needed to hear,” Wozniak later said. “I could stay at the bottom of the organization chart, as an engineer.” He called Jobs and declared that he was now ready to come on board.”

Born entrepreneurs

In the early 1980s, Robert Brockhaus began to explore personal traits that separated entrepreneurs from the general population. Brockhaus discovered that ‘internal locus of control’ was a powerful predictor of both a person intention to start a business and the success of that business. This finding has been replicated in many studies since.

A person with an internal locus of control believes that effort, skill and ability are what lead to success. They minimise the importance of fate, luck and chance in achievement. The problem with people who have an extreme, internal locus of control, is their beliefs often don’t fit with reality, they believe too much in their ability to shape their destiny. Steve Jobs is one such example. So extreme was his belief that he could shape the events in his life that colleagues described it as his “reality distortion field”.

Tribble, a former college, explained, “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have schedules.”

It enabled him to convince co-founder Steve Wozniak to write a programme that should have taken months in just four days. Similarly, when Jobs decided he wanted one of the world’s top designers, Paul Rand, to work with him, IBM had already contracted him. Jobs was so persistent with phone calls that, after two days, the Vice Chairman of IBM Paul Rizzo concluded, “it was futile to resist Jobs” and gave the go ahead.

When he was launching iTunes, and many believed it would be impossible to get all the artists and record label’s to sign up. Roger Ames the head of Warner music describes the Apple founder’s behaviour, “He would call me at home, relentless at ten at night, to say he still needed to get to Led Zeppelin or Madonna. He was determined, and nobody else could have convinced some of these artists.”

Isaacson’s biography is peppered with incidents of Jobs acting on his belief that he can, and would, shape the world around him. Again and again Jobs indomitable will, charisma and belief that he would prevail, helped him reimage seven industries. As a former team member commented on his reality distortion field, “It enabled Jobs to inspire his team to change the course of computer history with a fraction of the resources of Xerox or IBM.” In short, Jobs was a living example of “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”

Developing your internal locus of control

A large volume of research has shown that you can develop a deep belief in your ability to influence the world through four mechanisms:

  • Doing it: The best way to change your belief in your ability to control your destiny is by actually doing it. Setting and achieving goals has been shown to raise a person internal locus of control.
  • Learning from others: Studying and meeting entrepreneurs who have a deep belief in their ability to control their lives, you realise, so can you.
  • Persuasion: If you don’t believe the you are totally in control of your company’s destiny read Great by Choice it gives a convincing argument why luck and chance play little role in business success.
  • Manage your moods: Emotions have been shown to alter your belief your own ability. Being happy raises perceived beliefs, while being sad lowers them.

Get the book: Steve Jobs is available from R187 from and all good book stores.

Paul Smith
Paul Smith is a writer and startup scientist. He currently manages an accelerator, Ignitor, which helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Ignitor has developed a new model that significantly improves early stage start-ups odds of success. His primary research interests include understanding the behaviours of expert entrepreneurs, as well as, how to most effectively support high potential start-ups. Follow him on Twitter and visit his website.