I recently finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and like many found it be a thoroughly enjoyable read, but there was something missing. It felt somehow incomplete and I couldn’t figure out why, had the author left something out, misrepresented the man or the story in some way? Was it not what I expected?
Like many I have people who I look to as role models, for me and for my children, people who in their chosen field have excelled in what they do, but not only that, they have played the game well, have treated the people around them with respect and succeeded despite the environment they live and operate in. There are many people famous for their contribution to the arts, human rights and scientific discovery that have inspired me but when it comes to business I have found there needs to be a why as well as a what.
Men and women who conduct themselves well in business has always been something I long to hold up and say “See, it can be done!” I have heard the excuse “he’s a businessman”, or “she’s trying to run a business” as an excuse for bad behavior too many times and pleasing shareholders as an excuse for just about anything.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Steve Jobs wasn’t the nicest bloke in the world, I was hoping to find more nice stuff about him in the biography, I’ve read some brilliant eulogies in the months since he died and I desperately wanted more, a lot more actually to address the balance, maybe to excuse the tirades of abuse he dished out to some of his employees and the way he treated former partners and even his own flesh and blood.
GOOD v BAD?
And then there’s that other bloke Bill Gates, the one who came up with stuff that wasn’t as good, that looked ugly, (the products not the person) but dominated the market for so many reasons. I wanted it to be neat and tidy, I am an Apple fan. My business hero’s are the philanthropists, the one’s who have a purpose beyond price, who look after their staff and are passionate about their product so why couldn’t it be simple, Jobs/Apple = Good, Gate/Microsoft = Bad?
The simple answer is that life is messy, people are complex, people are messy. Apple products are fabulous to look at and a joy to use, I have used them for years I’m not a hacker I just want to create stuff not just consume what others have created. I don’t want the techy business to get in the way, I just what it to work seamlessly, my camera, my software, my computer all in perfect harmony. I particularly remember getting by first iPhone, having just dumped a Nokia smartphone favouring an older simpler model. The iPhone was a breath of fresh air, it just worked, there weren’t any Apps then, just sending a text message made me think “why wasn’t it always like this?”
I’m convinced Steve Jobs wasn’t driven by money, he believed he could do better than what was out there, he didn’t believe in market research, people didn’t know what they wanted because they hadn’t seen what was possible. Yes he had a private jet and yes he spent more on the materials to make staircases than most but he wanted to make things better by making better things.
Time will judge legacy. The Bill Gates Foundation may yet commit Malaria the way of Small Pox, now that is worth living for. I was at my sons prize giving recently, he is in a very successful drama group, one of the award sponsors is a scientist who appreciates The Arts, he said “Science helps us to live but The Arts make life worth living”.
Good design is not what something looks like, it’s how it works, designing great products that free the creative process is a great legacy. Helping non techy artists communicate is a great legacy. Helping to make life worth living is a great legacy. Apple is a great brand, a creative company. Being creative with the way it uses the profit it makes also is a great legacy.
Oh, and is me or are all smart phones starting to look like the iPhone?