Steve Jobs’ reaction to this insult shows why he was such a great CEO

It’s 1997, and Steve Jobs has just returned to the company he was fired from 12 years before.

On stage at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, Jobs was holding a rare Q&A with developers when one audience member stood up and lobbed an insult at Jobs.

“Mr. Jobs, you’re a bright and influential man,” he starts out with a flat tone. The audience laughs in the pause.

“Here it comes,” Job responds with a smile.

“It’s sad and clear that on several counts you’ve discussed, you don’t know what you’re talking about. [Audience laughter]. I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say, Java and any of its incarnations addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc. And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you can tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years,” he says.

At that point, the audience fell quiet and someone is heard saying “Ouch.” (Jobs had spent the last seven years not at Apple.)

“Mistakes will be made”

Jobs’ response in the five minutes that follows is a masterclass in how to gracefully turn an insult into an impromptu speech on vision.

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