To gauge where Steve stood in the universe when I started working with him at NeXT, you had to grasp the concept of the RDF. The Reality Distortion Field was a bastard measure of importance in the 1990’s. It was first coined by Bud Tribble at Apple in 1981 to essentially describe Steve’s ability to persuade.
By example, Gil Amelio, Apple’s CEO at the time was suffering from a dearth of RDF. He had lost all of his, and especially where it mattered – on Wall Street.
The ex-Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) CEO was seemingly driving Apple into the ground at the time. Gil impressed no one, either inside or outside Apple. He was unable to sway hearts and minds – he had no RDF. It was weak. The world knew it and worse, he probably knew it, too.
When I knew Steve, his RDF was potent, as long as you were in the general proximity. Steve was magnetic – he drew you in. You felt you belonged. You believed the illusion that you could relate – the RDF took its firm hold.
Still today, a good twenty years after working with Steve (note that I didn’t say “selling to Steve”) I’m convinced we had deep, meaningful conversations of great importance, so strong was his immediate RDF. At the end of the day, it really did not matter whether Steve believed it, what mattered is what I believed, what people believed.
Good leaders (and clients!) are like that—they draw people in, play with them, feed them, and tuck them into their proper puppy box.
Everyone recognized the limits to Steve’s RDF. We used to joke that while Steve’s RDF extended throughout the room he occupied.
Sadly for Steve and much of the rest of the universe, Bill Gates’ RDF enveloped the world in 1995. Windows was king, Unix desktop workstations were a temporary phenomenon, and Apple was collapsing more and more into the niches it created: K-12 and the publishing arts.
Time was kind to Steve’s RDF. Steve blew out the RDF quotient years ago, but when I sold to Steve, he was struggling to find believers, people who would stay in the room with him, and ignore the rest of the world outside.
When I think of Steve today, I believe he still lives in the RDF, a pure spirit bouncing around and mixing it up with things. The RDF is a heaven of sorts for him, an ethereal heaven of good vibes, positive reinforcement and iOS ever after. It’s also responsible for most of the world’s iPhone snaps.
So what was my tie-in to the RDF? How did I use it to my advantage? When faced with waves, you surf, you never fight, and I had to keep swimming. Luckily, there was no trouble with Bud Tribble.
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