Steve Jobs: Intensities, Obsessions, Creativity

Excitabilites or unusual intensities in five areas: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional, are personality traits and behaviors that many consider to be qualities of high ability people, traits which can be difficult or challenging, but may also contribute to developing outstanding talents.

Steve Jobs

“I liked him. He was kind of skinny and wiry and full of energy.” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, about meeting Steve Jobs in 1969.

“Jobs doesn’t sit through much of anything; one of the ways he dominates is through sheer movement.” Joe Nocera

The bio ‘Steve Jobs’ topped an list of 10 best-selling books.

Listening to author Walter Isaacson in his interview with Charlie Rose, one of his comments that caught my attention was this [paraphrased]:

The deep emotionalism surprised me. He’d be talking and I looked up and there were tears… He was talking about the ad campaign ‘Here’s to the Crazy Ones’ and he got very emotional.

Video: excerpt of Charlie Rose interview of Walter Isaacson (10/24/11). See the longer interview at

Here is a quote from Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs, by Joe Nocera, then a writer for Esquire, describing Jobs’ intensity at a NeXT computer staff meeting:

Steve Jobs -TIME 1984“It’s not quite right to say that he is sitting through this staff meeting because Jobs doesn’t sit through much of anything; one of the ways he dominates is through sheer movement.

“One moment he’s kneeling in his chair, the next minute he’s slouching in it; the next he has leaped out of his chair entirely and is scribbling on the blackboard directly behind him.

“He is full of mannerisms. He bites his nails. He stares with unnerving earnestness at whoever is speaking. His hands, which are slightly and inexplicably yellow, are in constant motion.”

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Ashton Kutcher says he did extensive research for his role as Steve Jobs (in the movie ‘Jobs’, 2013), and commented:

“I found his level of discipline and focus to be outstanding…As I started to read other things about him, I learned that he was a very emotional guy, sometimes almost irrationally emotional. That surprised me.”

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

[Quote and photo from post: Ashton Kutcher on Steve Jobs: ‘He was a man who made mistakes’ –]

Here is a video of Kutcher on The Charley Rose Show, with more comments about the complex personality of Jobs:

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Some of the references above sound like the unusually intense levels of emotional, physical and other aspects of behavior and mind that Polish clinician and theorist Kazimierz Dabrowski detailed in his theory of personality development, and termed Overexcitability.

He particularly addressed high ability, gifted and talented people, and said, “Almost 97 percent of the highly creative suffer from different kinds of overexcitabilities, neuroses, and psychoneuroses. So, neurotics and psychoneurotics are a mine of social treasure.”

More stimulatable

Stephanie Tolan, a writer and advocate for extremely bright children, notes the original Polish terms overexcitabilities or excitabilities can be translated more literally as “superstimulatabilities.”

She summarizes, “It’s a stimulus-response difference from the norms. It means that in these five areas a person reacts more strongly than normal for a longer period than normal to a stimulus that may be very small. It involves not just psychological factors but central nervous system sensitivity.”

She describes the Psychomotor form of Overexcitability or Excitability:

“This is often thought to mean that the person needs lots of movement and athletic activity, but it can also refer to the issue of having trouble smoothing out the mind’s activities for sleeping. Lots of physical energy and movement, fast talking, lots of gestures, sometimes nervous tics.”

From her page Dabrowski’s Over-excitabilities – A Layman’s Explanation.

Sharon Lind, a gifted education and parenting consultant, notes in her article Overexcitability and the gifted, “A small amount of definitive research and a great deal of naturalistic observation have led to the belief that intensity, sensitivity and overexcitability are primary characteristics of the highly gifted.”

“Often when overexcitability is discussed examples and concerns are mostly negative. Remember that being overexcitable also brings with it great joy, astonishment, beauty, compassion, and creativity. Perhaps the most important thing is to acknowledge and relish the uniqueness of an overexcitable child or adult.”

Also see a longer discussion of the topic by Casey on her Raising Smart Girls blog: Overexcitabilities and the gifted – Living With Intensity

See quotes by her about J.D. Salinger “searching relentlessly” for peace in my post What do you do with your intensity?

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Being intense is not always positive.

Living With IntensityCasey refers to one of the reference books on the subject: Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults.

The Amazon summary notes: “Gifted children and adults are often misunderstood. Their excitement is viewed as excessive, their high energy as hyperactivity, their persistence as nagging, their imagination as not paying attention, their passion as being disruptive, their strong emotions and sensitivity as immaturity, their creativity and self-directedness as oppositional.”

Also see much more on the Dabrowski page listed at the bottom.

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The iconic 1984 Macintosh commercial conceived by Chiat/Day and directed by Ridley Scott was nationally aired on television only once – during the 3rd quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl football game.

Creative Obsession

The photo near the top (by Norman Seeff) is Jobs with the original 1984 Macintosh, which was not made to be opened by the owner, but Isaacson says Jobs thought the main circuit board looked ugly, that the chips were not arrayed nicely, so it had to be re-manufactured. One of his staff noted that no one would see it; Steve said “But we will know.”

Attention to even “invisible details” is often part of the obsessive perfectionism – or, from another vantage point, passion for excellence – that drives many major filmmakers, too.

One example is James Cameron (the Terminator series, Aliens, Titanic, Avatar and many others), whose attention to detail for his movie Avatar included employing a university linguistics professor to create a functioning language for the tribe of blue aliens on Pandora.

But one of the dark sides of obsession for Cameron and others can be engaging in negatively perfectionistic behavior, or being a destructive workaholic.

Both were also reportedly aspects of Jobs’ life and achievement.

Of course, as with most behavior, there is no absolute border between productive and pathological.

Eric MaiselTherapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD notes in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions that clinicians may define “obsession” as an intrusive thought, recurrent, unwanted, and inappropriate.

Maisel writes, “Defined this way, it is obviously always unwelcome. But suppose a person is caught up thinking day and night about her current painting or about the direction she wants to take her art?”

From my post Creative Obsession

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Steve Jobs quote

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.

“It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

From  Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing, By Gary Wolf, The Wired Interview.

[Quote image is from Learning how to learn [SlideShare] by Gabriel Zambrano.]

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Psychologist Elaine Aron declares all highly sensitive people “are creative, by definition, because we process things so thoroughly and notice so many subtleties and emotional meanings that we can easily put two unusual things together.”

From post: Elaine Aron on the trait of high sensitivity.

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In her post Do You “Believe Beyond Reason?” (on her blog – see her site), creativity coach Jenna Avery notes that “passion” is an over-used and often bland idea, and it should be something much more.”

She writes, ‘Let’s start asking, “What do you BELIEVE BEYOND REASON?” What do you believe in so deeply, so permanently, so passionately that you can hardly keep yourself in your skin because you are exploding with joy when you consider it?’

Isn’t that what we want to feel as creators?

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Steve JobsBook: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson.

Audiobook:  Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, Narrated by Dylan Baker, Walter Isaacson.

My sites on ‘central nervous system sensitivity’:
Highly Sensitive
Highly Sensitive / Facebook

Related pages, posts

Dabrowski / advanced development

Dabrowski Excitabilities – Michael Jackson

Steve Jobs and Thinking Differently

Excitabilities and Gifted People – an intro by Susan Daniels – includes video.

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Originally posted 2013-08-14 16:50:01.


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