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Reality distortion field

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Reality distortion field (RDF) is a term first used by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe company co-founder Steve Jobs's charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Macintosh project.[1] Tribble said that the term came from the Star Trek[1] episode "The Menagerie", in which it is used to describe how the aliens encountered by the crew of the starship Enterprise created their own new world through mental force.

Steve Jobs[edit]

In the book Steve Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson states that around 1972, while Jobs was attending Reed College, Robert Friedland "taught Steve the reality distortion field." The RDF was said by Andy Hertzfeld to be Jobs's ability to convince himself, and others around him, to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. It was said to distort his co-workers' sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and to make them believe that whatever impossible task he had at hand was possible. Jobs could also use the reality distortion field to appropriate others' ideas as his own, sometimes proposing an idea back to its originator, only a week after dismissing it.[1]

The term has been used to refer to Jobs's keynote speeches ("Stevenotes") by observers and devoted users of Apple computers and products,[2] and derisively by Apple's competitors in criticisms of Apple. On Research In Motion's official BlackBerry blog, Jim Balsillie introduced a blog post by saying "For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field".[3]

One of the best, if possibly exaggerated,[4] examples of the reality distortion field comes from Jobs's biographer Isaacson. During development of the Macintosh computer in 1984, Jobs asked Larry Kenyon, an engineer, to reduce the Mac boot time by 10 seconds. When Kenyon replied that it was not possible to reduce the time, Jobs asked him, "If it would save a person's life, could you find a way to shave 10 seconds off the boot time?" Kenyon said that he could. Jobs went to a white board and pointed out that if 5 million people wasted an additional 10 seconds booting the computer, the sum time of all users would be equivalent to 100 human lifetimes every year. A few weeks later Kenyon returned with rewritten code that booted 28 seconds faster than before.[5]

Bill Gates talked in an interview about Steve Jobs using his reality distortion field to "cast spells" on people. Gates considered himself immune to Jobs's reality distortion field, saying, "I was like a minor wizard because he would be casting spells, and I would see people mesmerized, but because I'm a minor wizard, the spells don't work on me."[6][7]

Other instances[edit]

The term has been extended, with a mixture of awe and scorn, to other managers and leaders in industry who try to convince their employees to become passionately committed to projects without regard to their overall difficulty or to competitive forces in the market. It is sometimes used with regard to excessively-hyped products that are not necessarily connected with any one person.[8]

  • Bill Clinton's charisma has been called a reality distortion field.[9]
  • The chess champion Bobby Fischer was said to have a "Fischer aura" surrounding him that disoriented Boris Spassky and other opponents.[10]
  • The term has been also associated with Donald Trump's approach to running his 2016 campaign for United States President and his presidency.[11]
  • Financial Times used the term when describing Elon Musk.[12]
  • WeWork founder Adam Neumann has been described as having a reality distortion field.[13]
  • A parody of a reality distortion field appeared in a 2010 Dilbert strip in which a reality distortion field emitter is used during a keynote speech by Dogbert.[14]
  • Columnist Yen Makabenta of The Manila Times opined that Rodrigo Duterte's rise to prominence and appeal to the masses—in spite of allegations of human rights violations and Duterte's obscene remarks towards individuals and organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, which the Philippines has a significant population of adherents—have generated a reality distortion field. He added that while Duterte's vulgar and sexually charged comments during his presidential campaign have alarmed many and were initially seen as detrimental to his victory as a presidential candidate, he exhibited charisma which accounted for why people still campaigned for him in spite of this behavior.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hertzfeld, Andy (February 1981). "Reality Distortion Field". Folklore.org.
  2. ^ Dudrow, Andrea (October 16, 2000). "Notes from the Epicenter: Exploring the Reality Distortion Field". CreativePro.
  3. ^ "RIM Responds to Apple's 'Distortion Field'". Inside BlackBerry. October 19, 2010. Archived from the original on October 20, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  4. ^ "Folklore.org: Saving Lives". www.folklore.org. August 1983. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  5. ^ Isaacson, Walter (2012-04-01). "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs". Harvard Business Review. ISSN 0017-8012. Retrieved 2021-08-31.
  6. ^ Clare Duffy (8 July 2019). "CNN Exclusive: Bill Gates calls Steve Jobs a 'wizard' who saved Apple". CNN. Retrieved 2021-08-12.
  7. ^ Grothaus, Michael (2019-07-08). "Bill Gates thinks Steve Jobs was a wizard". Fast Company. Retrieved 2021-08-12.
  8. ^ "The Ajax Reality Distortion Field". davidtemkin.com. April 12, 2005. Archived from the original on June 18, 2010.
  9. ^ Ferriss, Tim (November 21, 2010). "How It Works: Clinton's "Reality Distortion Field" Charisma".
  10. ^ Darrach, Brad (1972-08-11). "Bobby is Not a Nasty Kid". Life. p. 40. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
  11. ^ O'Brien, Timothy L. (2016-06-16). "A Peek Inside Trump's Smoke and Mirrors Tour". Bloomberg View. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
  12. ^ Richard Waters. Elon Musk, billionaire tech idealist and space entrepreneur. Financial Times.
  13. ^ Wiedeman, Reeves (2020). Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-316-46136-8. OCLC 1175677200.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ "Dilbert comic strip for 2010-09-23". The official Dilbert comic strips archive.
  15. ^ Makabenta, Yen. "Duterte has his own 'reality distortion field'". Retrieved 2020-11-29.