The death of Steve Jobs of Apple is a tremendous loss for the country. There has been extensive media coverage of Jobs since his death, with great emphasis on his brilliance. Jobs was indeed brilliant, but there was more to Jobs than a brilliant mind. Jobs combined his brilliance with a determination that achieving goals required the breaking of some of the furniture in the room. And nobody could break furniture like Jobs. With all of the great things written about Jobs we will have a tendency to not mention the personal traits that helped him to achieve the success he had. And those traits not only disdained mediocrity but attacked it, mocked it, and ultimately either fired it or destroyed it in competition. Jobs was a full contact player, and to be on the receiving end of his anger surely was not a pleasant thing. But in today’s homogenized, politically correct world I am sure that a Steve Jobs, just starting, would be in for some criticism. A huge swarth of opinion would rather promote mediocrity that does not cause any waves, or does not break any of the furniture in the room. That surely was not Jobs, who simply flipped off those folks. A great story in the New York Times highlights some of this side of Jobs.
He chewed out subordinates and partners who failed to deliver, trashed competitors who did not measure up and told know-it-all pundits to take a hike. He had a vision of greatness that he wielded to reshape the computer, telephone and entertainment industries, and he would brook no compromise.
Maybe it is only the despair people feel about the stagnating American economy, but the announcement of the death of the Apple co-founder Wednesday seemed to mark the end of something: in an era of limits, Mr. Jobs was the last great tyrant.
Jobs was involved in his company, looking after the details, and not likely spending much time on the golf course.
Stories of him forcefully telling Apple employees that a product was not good enough are legion. (“You’ve baked a really lovely cake,” he told one engineer, adding that the hapless fellow had used dog feces for frosting). Make it smaller and better, he commanded. No element of design was too minor to escape his notice. (On a Mac interface: “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”)
His tormenting of Bill Gates makes me feel especially good today, as I struggle to deal with the continuing mediocrity of the Vista operating system. Of course that will be the last Microsoft operating system I will be complaining about, as I convert totally to Apple.
Mr. Jobs castigated competitors, particularly Microsoft. Bill Gates’s company, which dwarfed Apple in power and wealth during the 1980s and 1990s, was not even described as second-rate; it was deemed third-rate. Worse, it was not even trying.
“The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste,” Mr. Jobs said in a typical broadside. “They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.”
The country needs more of the type of innovation that Steve Jobs brought, and we surely need more of the management style that laughs at the mediocrity that passes for management in business and politics today. And then crushes it.