10:14 AM
Howard Anderson
Howard Anderson
Connect Directly

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.

Global CIO
Global CIOs: A Site Just For You
Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.

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.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Email This  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Copyright © 2020 UBM Electronics, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service