House = Holmes + Jobs

Sometimes the obvious takes a while to dawn on me. When I started watching the TV show "House" I didn't catch on right away that Dr. House is kind of like Sherlock Holmes. For example, he often knows things about people he's just met that seem impossible until he explains them, whereupon they seem elementary. And every episode is structured as a detective story, with Dr. House as the genius detective. Even when I noticed these similarities, I didn't realize how much inspiration "House" takes from Holmes until I looked it up on Wikipedia.

I suspect I'm being slow on the uptake again, but the other day it occurred to me that House has a lot in common with another famous genius: Steve Jobs.


Dr. House has a famously abusive managerial style that takes a heavy emotional toll on his subordinates. He's exquisitely attuned to people's weaknesses. He plays hurtful mind games. He pits team members against each other. He barges into rooms and insults people to their faces. [1]

At the same time, House's team is extremely loyal. They are drawn to him by his brilliance and charisma, and by the very fact that he pushes them hard. They accomplish great things with him that they wouldn't be able to anywhere else. House and his team accomplish the impossible, again and again.

One of House's talents is his ability to hire other talented people. He is extremely selective about who he will work with. As self-centered as he is, he would be the first to admit he is not a solo act. He constantly needs ideas from the team to fuel his own brilliance, even as he shoots down those ideas for being "moronic".

House is also selective about the projects he will work on. He will reject all "boring" proposals, and even some interesting ones, to focus on a project that he feels has some special quality. And then he will obsess over that project until he gets it right.

House can be wrong. In fact, he's wrong all the time; that's why the show is an hour long instead of fifteen minutes. When he's wrong he doesn't dwell on trying to prove he was actually right. He simply moves on and ignores any apparent contradiction with what he said before.

All of the above, and more, was true about Steve Jobs.

It seems to me there must be some conscious homage being paid by the creators of "House". It isn't just the Apple products all over the place or the one actual mention of Steve Jobs [2]. It seems to me there is Steve-ness at the show's very core. I can easily picture Hugh Laurie playing basically the same character he plays now, but with Cook, Schiller, Ive, and Forstall around the table instead of Chase, Taub, 13, and Foreman.

Heck, House shows up for work every day in jeans and running shoes. How much more "Steve" can you get?

[1] Regarding the abusive managerial style, I don't know if Jobs behaved quite as badly when he returned to Apple — indications are that he became a much nicer human being — but certainly the stories told about his early days at Apple and at NeXT are House-like.

[2] "Either that costs more than 25 bucks, or I'm seriously starting to doubt Steve Jobs' business strategy." (Episode 410, "It's a Wonderful Lie")

One thought on “House = Holmes + Jobs

  1. I endorse this thesis!

    One of the things I loved about House was how often he (and everybody else, it was contagious) would call out people on their motives, picking apart why they were saying what they were saying rather than just taking everything at face value. This is the sort of thing you need to do to really be able to read people and judge them, probably the most important skill of the late Mr. Jobs.

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