What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't - InformationWeek

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Howard Anderson
Howard Anderson
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What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't

He was demanding, persistent, and supremely self-confident. Jobs 1: absolute excellence.

By now, you're probably convinced that Steve Jobs was the Second Coming of Jesus. He wasn't.

He was a demanding, mercurial perfectionist. He could be, and often was, an incredible pain in the butt. He was the first technology diva. He needed "enemies" the way a fish needs water. He was more like Howard Roark, the protagonist of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, than he was Thomas Edison.

He led the most successful turnaround in technology history. He revolutionized a gaggle of businesses: consumer electronics, software, computing, retailing, music, film.

The key to understanding Jobs was to understand he wandered in the desert like Moses, not for 40 years but for 10. This was his time after Apple, when he invented NeXT, maybe the most powerful personal computer of its time. NeXT was a technical marvel and an economic wasteland. Only the true nerds wanted one, but once they had one, they wouldn't let go.

NeXT was Jobs' ticket back to Apple, which was badly in need of ... everything. But especially an operating system, so Apple bought NeXT and got Steve--buy one, get one free! Or you may have a different interpretation--buy Steve, get a free operating system!

Jobs had been driven from the temple by the Suits, namely, John Sculley. Sculley was much more the consummate politician, but in the end he was a soda water salesman. Sculley had learned the right words, but he never had the tune right. Exit Sculley.

In comparisons with Jobs, Bill Gates is usually cited as the better businessman, and perhaps he was. But at a certain point, Gates got tired, tired of the drag of running a business, tired of the Justice Department, tired of quarterly reports. Jobs never got tired. His thing: design. Design above all. Jobs once had a little Steve fit because he didn't like the screws inside the Mac. The screws! No one was even supposed to ever see them!

Jobs was the consummate venture capitalist, even though he wasn't one. He bought Pixar for a song--$10 million--from George Lucas. He nurtured Pixar, gave it life, let it make films (Toy Story), and hired brilliant people. He was running two companies at the same time, Apple in the morning, Pixar in the afternoon. Alert the helicopter; Steve is moving! The reason Jobs was worth $8.4 billion is that his little $10 million investment in Pixar grew to $5 billion.

Henry Kissinger once asked a staffer, who had the assignment to prepare a white paper, if this was his "best work." The staffer asked for the paper back and tried again. Kissinger then repeated the question, and the staffer then went back and tried a third time, afterwards telling Kissinger it was indeed his best work. Kissinger then replied: "Now I will read it." Jobs not only hired brilliant people, but he also got their best work. No one wanted to disappoint him. Also, no one wanted to be told that "This is the worst piece of ..."

Jobs' view of his competitors: sympathy. He never could understand why any company would release products so buggy and flawed, and why anyone would actually buy them.

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Apple had every Jobs strength--and many of his weaknesses. He believed that individuals created and that products, such as Macs, should help creative people learn. Jobs actually never believed in teams or groups or collaboration. So the early Apple products were weak where Jobs was weak.

Jobs never really viewed his competition as Sony or Motorola or Nokia. To him content and media and presentation were simply manifestations of the same creative process.

Was Jobs easy to work with? No. No. No. Clearly, the media industry and the app providers learned that lesson. But give him credit: The music industry titans always viewed the pirate copy as their enemy. Jobs pointed out that they were fighting a losing battle and he had enough clout to get these dons to sit down and support iTunes, reluctantly.

When Walt Disney proposed that his company take its characters and make them into a theme park, the company's board members opposed it. Only because Walt was Walt did they go along. When Jobs saw a market for a tablet--actually, an updated version of the ill-fated Newton--no one else did, citing the number of beached whales the rest of the industry had buried. He invented the category.

He also reinvented retailing. The Apple stores, all 345 of them, stand alone: clean, stark, no frills, no hustle/bustle.

Jobs taught us that design and execution matter, that the newcomer can clobber the incumbent with simplicity and performance, that customers will pay higher prices if a product connects with them. While paying lip service to open source, Job hated it. He believed in a closed shop, whose products work elegantly, whose designs are understated, and which forges an implicit contract with the buyer/user.

Jobs' legacy isn't Apple Inc. His legacy is that excellence can and should be rewarded. And if the Googles, Twitters, and Facebooks of the world learn and remember that, it's because their leaders have stood on the shoulders of a giant.


Howard Anderson, founder of Yankee Group and co-founder of Battery Ventures, is currently the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT. He can be reached at [email protected].

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO.

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2011 | 5:52:07 PM
re: What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't
What made the Apple products IS sweating things like the screws inside the Mac. Kudos Steve for attention to details! Only a real product guy understands that.

Also, don't totally agree with the comment "Jobs actually never believed in teams or groups or collaboration." Steve believed in the brilliance that small, highly motivated teams could accomplish, provided with the right leadership (which was usually Steve himself). Gates called him a world-class motivator of people. You don't become that strictly out of fear or with an intrinsic disdain for working with (teams of) people. They may have been small teams (relatively speaking), but teams none-the-less. And he was brilliant at leading, motivating the product key teams he led.

User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2011 | 5:54:14 PM
re: What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't
A very accurate assessment of Steve Jobs. But I'd modify the assertion of "Jobs actually never believed in teams or groups or collaboration. " He valued his teams and put a lot of personal energy into building great ones. What Steve did NOT buy into was the notion that any team's consensus on matters of risk and taste was superior to his own gut instinct. Good thing his gut instincts were the best in the history of the tech business. Without him, Apple won't be nearly as successful. The teams he leaves behind are highly respectable, and there are many brilliant individuals still at Apple. But Steve's departure means there is no one to say, "I know I'm right and I'm making my decision, regardless of how many disagree with it." Steve was one of the tiny number of corporate leaders who ever deserved that perogative.
User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2011 | 7:02:19 PM
re: What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't
I'd like more insight on "so early Apple products were weak where Jobs was weak." Are you thinking of the hard ceiling of 512KB RAM in the original Mac? Or something else?

Perhaps more importantly ... how did the brilliant people at Apple influence the *later* Apple products, so that they were less weak where Steve was weak? Everyone has weaknesses, after all, including Edison, Ford, Ben Franklin. How are the later products different from the early products?
JR Chat
JR Chat,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2011 | 8:37:55 PM
re: What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't
I found the article interesting, but my question is: Did Howard know Jobs as an insider, or as an outsider looking in? What Jobs accomplished speaks for itself as an innovater and as a man!
User Rank: Apprentice
3/8/2012 | 5:58:13 PM
re: What Steve Jobs Was, And Wasn't
Haha no, I've never been much of a fan of Jobs. I dont mean to suggest that I disliked him, only to suggest that he was a person of little consequence on my life (despite being a long term Apple user up until they released OS X).

Jobs was a great salesman, that's for sure.

Out of curiosity, any of you seen The Pirates of Silicon Valley?
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