Steve Jobs died yesterday at the age of 56. Tributes, biographies and features are filling the internet and I have nothing noteworthy to add to them. Instead, I want to talk briefly about how we (most of us, anyway) viewed Steve Jobs, what that says about us and what we can learn from it all.
Disclaimer: I’m not an Apple fanatic. I don’t dislike the company or its products, I’ve just never thought they were worth the price premium over comparable products from other companies. The one exception is the iPhone – I bought a 3GS two years ago when I finally decided to take the smartphone plunge. I like it and I’m going to replace it with a 4S now that my contract is up. But if I had started with Android I imagine I’d feel the same way about them.
The way Jobs ran Apple was at great variance with the values of many of his customers. Transparency is not an Apple virtue – Jobs was highly secretive. He sued bloggers for publishing product rumors and sent the police to recover a misplaced iPhone prototype. Neither is Apple a democracy. Jobs was a micromanager, down to providing scripts for customer service and technical support personnel. He was a workaholic who demanded long hours from his employees. He priced Apple products as high as he could get away with and he built his products in China where he paid suppliers (and by extension, their employees) as little as possible.
Why, then, was Jobs so admired, loved, and even worshiped?
First, both Jobs and his products were intuitive. A cautionary tale from my MBA studies said “the average VP of Marketing looks in the mirror and thinks he sees the average consumer.” For Jobs, though, that was true. He had a talent for understanding what would be well-received and what wouldn’t. Now, because Apple is a premium product, he didn’t have to worry if doing things “right” would cost a few more cents – he’d still make lots of money. That’s a luxury that designers of lower-priced products simply don’t have.
Second, Jobs fit the I-did-it-my-way, self-made-man myth that is so popular in America. He dropped out of college. He studied Buddhism in India. He co-founded Apple in a garage. He got fired from the company he founded, had successes elsewhere, then came back to Apple and led it from near-bankruptcy to the major success it is today. And he did it all his way.
Most people who insist on doing things “my way” ultimately fail, because they let their egos get in the way of their good sense. I don’t know if Jobs listened when it counted or if he was the one-in-a-million whose “my way” turned out to be the right way. But in any case, he fit the myth and so we loved him.
Third, even the most radical among us recognize success when we see it, and we recognize what it takes to achieve it. Success takes hard work and lots of it. It takes dedication and a refusal to settle for less than the best, no matter what it costs. It takes saying “no” to a million opportunities and a million distractions to focus on your core mission.
Success requires taking risks and then refusing to fail. It takes refusing to allow others to cause you to fail.
And when you do fail, success requires admitting it, moving on and going right back to work, just as hard, just as dedicated, only this time a little wiser.
There’s a lesson in there for you and me, but for today let’s just admire a man who gave us some really cool tools and toys and who built an empire doing it.
Be blessed, Steve Jobs, as you cross the veil and go where ever it is that secretive Buddhists go after death.