“Steve has a reality distortion field… In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything.” –Bud Tribble on Steve Jobs
Not too long ago, I became fascinated with the power of manipulation — the power to guide people towards a certain direction or decision. Once you come to realize the power of being charismatic, of being able to read people, you become aware that you can feed them the information they need to hear and there is little that remains out of your reach.
Steve Jobs is arguably the most masterful manipulator the world has ever seen. In his complexity, it is difficult to discern whether his actions are all planned and purposeful or if they instead are the result of sporadic lapses in emotional control. In my personal opinion, I believe it to have been a little bit of both. Because his emotional acuteness was intense and at times got the better of him, his comfort zone was both massive and yet somehow highly selective.
His emotional outbreaks gave him insight into the reactions of people around him when put into uncomfortable positions. This knowledge — combined with his uncanny ability to size up a person — gave him all the tools he needed to turn the world into his personal playground.
Of course, not all of Jobs’s tactics were as effective as they could have been, but nevertheless his ability to influence people is what took him to the top of the world. The beauty of it is that we can all implement some of his tactics in our daily lives — not to mention that we would all be better off for it. The key is playing on the wants of others, being able to perceive what a person truly wants. This is not as difficult as it seems as long as you approach it in a logical manner. What is it that people want?
Arguably, different things depending on the person. However, when speaking in less specific terms, we can easily point out that each and every person wants happiness. Happiness is the grand goal — the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The possibility — or rather, the promise — of happiness as a result of any action is an enticing motivator.
Jobs had the ability to pinpoint what it is that a person wants most out of any given situation. He would cater his responses to rebuttals or arguments by highlighting what he believed that person wants to hear: that the proposed course of action will improve their state of living. Improvements could be small, but the larger they were, the more likely it was for that person to fold and bend to Jobs’s will.
There is no reason any of us could not use such tactics to our advantage. As long as the information that you are feeding someone is accurate — which wasn’t always the case with Jobs — then you should feel free to manipulate whomever you please. As long as you are acting ethically and believe that what you are proposing will benefit both parties, then there is no reason not to. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the result has to be fair necessarily, as long as there is an improvement on both sides. This is especially true for business.
During any sort of negotiations, you always want to present an option that sits somewhere atop of common ground; you want both parties to leave the table happier than when they first arrived. However, the truth is that nine times out of 10, one party will leave happier than the other. Because if both you and your opponents leave happier, then the deal was an ethical one.
If it was slightly one-sided…well, you told them the facts and they made the decision — it’s not your fault they decided not to aim higher. Such delicate manipulation is practiced by all successful entrepreneurs everywhere. Whether it comes to hiring new employees, manufacturers, fulfillment agencies, customer service, or whatever have you, digging into a person’s wants and dreams is the best way of having them agree to your terms.
Jobs took this further than any other person I have come across. He went as far as to weep publicly and throw tantrums for what I believe was a way of him bargaining his good behavior for getting exactly what he wants. Most importantly was the actual reality distortion field that he produced. Feeding people what they were hoping to hear is only the tool that he used to get what he wanted; he went a step further.
Jobs created a platform for him to work upon. He created a world with its own rules that he lived in — a world that required each person he interacted with to adapt as their own. Most of us have heard the benefits of visualization, seeing ourselves achieving our goals and seeing the result of our labor as a reality. Jobs did this to the point of convincing himself that his confabulated world was actual reality.
Most impressively, Jobs realized the difficulty that people have arguing against an improbable possibility as long as that possibility, once come to fruition, would increase their happiness. Some argue that he would make the impossible possible, but that’s not true at all; Jobs understood the difference between possible and impossible very well — better than most in fact.
What he would do is present a course of action that, although highly unlikely to be accomplished or to come out a success, was still possible to achieve. He would convince his team to undertake the completion of a month-long project in only a week. And guess what? Somehow the projects always got done on time. Jobs believed that the improbable was certain and this certainty of his made it near impossible for anyone that worked with him to believe otherwise.
We can all create such a reality distortion field around us and simultaneously use manipulation tactics to achieve our goals more efficiently. There’s a certain beauty to the concept of such a field. We all think about the lives that we want to one day be living, the way that the world will appear to us, the way that we would feel living in such skin. We think about such a life as something that we are aiming to live sometime in the future.
The trick is to live in that world now. You have to create a reality distortion field and believe that what you are doing is right. Believe that what you are doing is important. Believe in the goal and believe that you will accomplish what you set out to accomplish.
You must believe to the point of knowing it as a fact. Once you understand the course your life should take, it always falls into place. This world that you can create for yourself can influence those around you — you can make them see what you see. This is what people speak of when they say some great thinker had a ‘vision’ for the future. This is where it all starts — you build your distortion field and you gently guide the world to see things the way you see them, the truths that you see as truths.
“Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective even if you were acutely aware of it. We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it, but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature.”- Andy Hertzfeld