The Myth of the Maverick Founder
They’re still just people — and not always good ones
Over the years, I’ve met my share of CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, and “visionaries.” What they all have in common is a deep, bottomless belief in their ideas and the will to make them happen.
They can be myopic, dismissive, unpredictable, but are also often charismatic, exciting, unusual. As they build their dreams, become successful, and gain notoriety, the public, if they see them — and they often do — start stripping away the things that make them average, human, and like us.
Steve Jobs might’ve been the best example. An average engineer, but brilliant designer and marketer, Jobs almost willed the Mac into creation. His failure soon after (ousted from his own company) was part of the Maverick journey and when Jobs returned in 1997, he soon willed more market-defining products, the new colorful Macs, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, into existence.
As adoring fans idealized Jobs, he modified his look, honing it into a uniform and presentation that was at once, completely recognizable but also enigmatic.
I think we all know that Jobs was much more complex than that. He could be harsh, angry, dismissive, self-destructive. He was just a man, perhaps an extraordinary one, but still flesh, blood, and bone.
Jobs and I never met, but I did have a few passing encounters with the Yin to Job’s Yang, Bill Gates of Microsoft. He was, in the 90s, similarly idolized by adoring Windows fans. I wouldn’t argue that he never rose to Jobs’ icon status. Jobs, who died in 2011, is frozen in time, his myth growing with each year since his passing. Gates lives and is revealed as more and more of the brilliant but utterly typical person he is.
Build up to break down
History is filled with founders and entrepreneurs who have built great things while preying on our weaknesses, and yet we’re constantly on the lookout for fresh inspiration, new leaders to idolize, and ultimately, tear down.
In recent years, our fascination with the maverick entrepreneur has shifted and with good reason. Where the legends of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were built over decades, more recent founder stories are unfolding…