“What do Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have in common?”


“What do Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have in common?” asked Prasna Rao** even as I sat down to write this post.

“Well, both are genuises. Very successful. Gamechangers. Innovators. Lots of money.”

“Think, there is more to them than the obvious.”

“Both run huge organisations. Both are from the US. Both are college drop outs. Both started in some garage I think.”

“You are not thinking hard enough. Here take a look.” Prasna Rao threw a copy of Mumbai Mirror (May 17, 2011) at me.

“Look at page 25. Read what it says”

The article titled “Techland’s Tyrants” described the management style of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. What was common was their unforgiving, autocratic style of management.

A CEO I met recently told me that he had the opportunity to meet both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on different occasions. ” They were both supremely self-confident. In fact there was a thin line between their self confidence and arrogance.”

According to this CEO Innovators are disruptors. Most people hate their guts and are uncomfortable dealing with them. They have low tolerance for fools.

Anand Mahindra had an interesting thing to say about Innovators. In an interview with DNA titled “Batting for Oddballs” by Vinay Kamat, he talked about managing talented mavericks. This is what he said:

“One aspect of Sand Pit is a huge tolerance for mavericks. I guarantee that every company will always have one guy who everybody hates, nobody likes to work with, is arrogant as hell, always points to himself, but comes out with ideas that nobody can come out with. We don’t have a cost of eccentricity; we just firewall. And, at the cost of criticism from our team players, we say we have to, as an organisation, show tolerance for mavericks.”

“Ha! So Innovators and creative people are arrogant. Correct?

“I am not sure if I can make a sweeping statement like that.”

“But you are not disagreeing either”

“What I have found often is that many creative people think of amazing ideas. For them it seems simple and obvious. For the rest of us it does not seem so. There is a huge gap. Creative people also lack the patience to explain the idea clearly. Often they have little tolerance for disagreement. They respect very few people and make it clear that they do not suffer fools.”

“That makes them arrogant. Right?”

“I do not agree. An arrogant person generally has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. That may not be the case with the really talented creative people.”

“You are dancing around Sridhar. Why don’t you ask your readers to share what they think? Are innovators and creative people arrogant people? Is arrogance a distinguishing quality that separates innovators and creative people?”

There you are folks. Prasna Rao wants your views.

Are innovators and creative people supremely self confident? Or are they arrogant?

What do you think?

**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms.  You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach




*Picture by marion doss available under a Creative Commons Attribution- licensed for commercial use.


Any Thoughts?

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14 Responses to ““What do Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have in common?””

  1. I would imagine, based on my interactions with creative professionals/leaders/individuals, that the ‘mavericks’ can be broadly slotted into 2 categories – one creative individuals/innovators and the other creative leaders. The former are individual contributors and therefore your point about their lacking patience to get others to understand their idea holds true..which can be perceived as arrogance. The other category of creative leaders are not only creative in their own capacity but also actively seek answers/innovation in anybody/anything around them; thus institutionalizing innovation and definitely not arrogant!

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Padmaja.

      You have introduced a nuance – creative leaders. I agree fully with your observation about them.

      They are a rare breed though!

  2. Pavan Soni says:

    I liked your new site Sridhar and also some of the interesting topics which are indeed discussion starters (or debate starters). Think most leaders aren’t comfortable with people who make them feel uncomfortable. They get vomited by the organization just as body reacts to a strong medication.
    Another skills needs to be honed is that of comfort with ambiguity, something that only comes while working in extreme situations. Unfortunately B-Schools don’t teach such skills, even via famed Case Study methods.

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Pavan.

      Comfort with ambiguity or tolerance of ambiguity is indeed a big issue.

      It must be interesting to put together a case study on ‘Comfort with ambiguity’.

      I located a paper on ‘Tolerance with Ambiguity’ some time ago. Will send that to you.

  3. Uday Kagal says:

    I beg to differ!! There is published literature on how Bill Gates was very employee focused, personally involved in recruitment and screening for the best, creating open, non-bureaucratic organizations that promoted creativity. The same is said for Richard Branson.

    Innovators are usually humble people, very curious about the world out there (which is not a characteristic of arrogant people, who are extremely self-centered), always seeking opportunities to create new solutions. Its the other kind who are usually arrogant 🙂

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Uday,

      You must have interacted with a lot of creative people from the advertising business.

      Any comments based on that experience?

  4. Pavitra Narayanan says:

    Interesting. I go with self confident. 🙂

  5. K.S. Susindar says:

    Dear Sridhar,
    I think we should not mingle ‘creative’ people who primarily thrive on their ‘thoughts’ and some times ‘winning ideas’. I am referring to people who are from Cinema, Advertising, Journalism and other authors.
    In larger organisations, Innovations are kind of ‘order of the day’ if the organisation has to stay ahead. This may go to the head of the person who innovated and not necessarily to the head of the CEO of a company. There is a section of people who cannot tolerate some attitudes. If they have to put Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the ‘Arrogance’ bubble – why are they excluding many others. The CEO has a right to carry an attitude – even the attitude is fostered by his team over a period of time.
    I think it is rubbish to comment on attitudes of people who are successful by being different and bold.

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Susindar.
      The point you make about commenting on the attitude of successful people is interesting. In fact that is what the Mumbai Mirror article is all about. My post is to understand a point of view people seem to have about creative people and innovators.
      I hope this discussion leads us to understand these ‘mavericks’ (as Anand Mahindra calls them) better.
      Interestingly there is a recent book called ‘Clever’ – Leading your smartest, most creative people – by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.
      I have just started reading it. May be I will do a review of the book soon.

      • Aarti says:

        First, at the risk of sounding arrogant, this is the theme of a few studies I was involved in a few years ago. We looked at the ‘thin line between self-confidence and arrogance’ you describe and concluded that arrogance is largely defined by the impact on others. You may be brilliant, successful, and deserve to be super self-confident but when you belittle others, insult them or have an exaggerated sense of self, that becomes arrogance. I think self-confidence can come across as arrogance but it isn’t if it’s ‘true’ (however you define ‘true’!)
        We also found, not surprisingly, that arrogance often goes with low perceived performance and intelligence – so arrogant people seem to somehow be compensating for something they’re lacking…
        Second – Clever sounds awesome…looking forward to your review.

        • R Sridhar says:

          Thanks Aarti.
          I have had the opportunity to work with and observe some of the finest creative people in the advertising and direct marketing industry. A few of them were legends in the industry.

          Some of them disproved your last point – “arrogant people seem to somehow be compensating for something they’re lacking” – unless it was something deeply personal and it was not evident to outsiders.

          I have not seen many who purposely belittled others; however their impatience with people who could not grasp their creative concepts, was often perceived as arrogance.

  6. Vinay Dabholkar says:

    Thanks, Sridhar for the post.

    At one point in their career, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were really arrogant. The movie “Pirates of the silicon valley” (available on YouTube) depicts this arrogance.

    I am not so sure about Jobs, but Bill Gates appeared to have evolved over the years. May be it was Melinda, perhaps his friendship with Warren Buffett, or just experiential wisdom. The guy is advocating empathy in a big way.

    If you see J K Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard (ref: YouTube), she says she was fearful of the failure and depressed due to the poverty around the time the idea of her lifetime occurred to her (Harry Potter). These don’t appear to be signs of either self-confidence or arrogance.


    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Vinay
      I have read the J K Rowling commencement speech at Harvard. Your point is well made. All creative people are NOT arrogant!


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