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To Be a Disrupter, You Don’t Have to be an Asshole

Source |  |  BY:Adam Grant, Author: GIVE AND TAKE, ORIGINALS, OPTION B; Wharton professor; NYT writer

When one of the early investors in Uber was asked about Travis Kalanick, he said, “It’s hard to be a disrupter and not be an asshole.”

In a poll of investors and bankers and other people familiar with the traits of disrupters, 23% agreed.

They’re wrong, and I’m going to tell you why. But first, I want to know why so many people cling to this myth.

I was asked that question recently on Masters of Scale, Reid Hoffman’s new podcast. As I thought about it, I realized I’ve met three kinds of people who believe in Asshole Disrupter Theory.

(a) People who are already assholes. (It helps them sleep at night.)

(b) People who have gotten burned too many times. (In learning to stick up for themselves, they’ve overcorrected.)

(c) People who idolize Steve Jobs. (He’s a Rorschach test: our reactions to him often reveal more about us than him.)

The last group is the most common, and I think they’re making a few mistakes.

Mistake 1: they’re making huge leaps based on a case study. How do we know that Jobs succeeded because of his assholic traits, and not in spite of them?

We don’t. Nastiness can have short-term payoffs but typically does more harm than good in the long run. If he had treated others better, would he still have gotten kicked out of his own company in 1985?

When asked about Jobs’ biggest shortcomings, his biographer Walter Isaacson offered: “He could’ve been kinder.” It wouldn’t have cost him anything. He might’ve even gained some loyalty from it. And it’s not a coincidence that the Jobs who came back to Apple in 1997 was kinder—I’ve heard this over and over from his close collaborators. He evolved. Although he still wasn’t warm and fuzzy, he was less cruel.

Mistake 2: confusing outward prickliness with inner selfishness. I’ve found that whether you’re a giver or a taker on the inside is completely separate from how agreeable you are on the outside. There’s little question that Jobs was disagreeable: he was critical and skeptical. Those traits can be valuable if you want to shake up a whole industry or invent a new one.


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