In a touching scene in the movie, a much older James Ryan asks his wife “Tell me I have led a good life”. “Tell me I am a good man”. Earlier in the movie, when Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is given orders to risk his men and go find Private Ryan he says “He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.”
I say this because Steve Jobs invented much more than a better light bulb, but we seem afraid to say he was a “good man”. I spoke to someone yesterday who called him an “assxxxx”. Time magazine reviewing Walter Isaacson’s recent biography paid him a left handed compliment “The strange, sad, triumphant life of Steve Jobs”. This Business Insider blog gives 16 examples from the book of Jobs being a “huge jerk”. I asked my 18 year old son as he was flipping through Isaacson’s book if he had a preconceived view of Steve and he said “he was an assxxxx. Not very nice to people around him”.
So, I told my son to also write down positive stuff about Jobs as he read the book. And I have written below some of the things I found admirable in the man.
To start with even though there is plenty of Apple in my next book, I am far from an Apple “fan-boy.” I was scarred in the mid 90s. My employer, Gartner was an Apple shop but because it was then considered a dying platform, our hardware and applications were old and un-flattering to the Apple of today. I was also unimpressed that Apple, so fussy when it comes to design and other operations, had tolerated its partner, AT&T’s poor network around its iPhone and its onerous roaming, early cancellation and other economics.
But credit where it is due:
Jobs as a management philosopher: No he did not pretend to be Peter Drucker or Jack Welch, but the more we learn about his philosophies, the more he will see his influence on corporate executive behavior. His emphasis of good design driving engineering regardless of the economics, his unwillingness to let deadlines compromise excellence, his ability to cut through silos. The last point is particularly poignant. Think of Sony – even with its Walkman, its studios and labels, and so many other Hollywood connections could not get organized even after years to cut through its silos to challenge the iPod and iTunes. Think of Microsoft and how its infighting prevented it from leveraging a multi-year lead in tablets compared to the iPad.
Jobs and his insatiable curiosity: Against the lily-white, hypocritical politicians of today, it is refreshing to read about Job’s weird diets, his interest in Buddhism, his experimentation with drugs. He may have been opinionated but he knew more about music, movies, publishing, even marble and glass from designing his stores and office complexes than even many experts in those fields (I thought it was hilarious in an episode in the book the CEO of Corning had to tell him to shut up and listen to someone who knew a bit more about glass)
Jobs and long-term relationships: If he was so difficult with people, how come he managed to work with some of the most talented people in the world for 5-10-15-20-25 years? Jonathan Ives, John Lasseter (now with Disney), Ron Johnson (now CEO of J.C. Penney), Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, John Doerr and more. Most of us would give a limb to have a fraction of his rolodex. And then there was a marriage for over 2 decades, While his wife Laurene Powell deserves more than half the credit there in a society where the average marriage barely lasts a decade. let’s give the man credit.
Jobs as amazing fighter: The remarkable thing about his last 8 years was how productive he was in his innovation while undergoing so many invasive surgeries and debilitating treatments. As I have gone through my own recovery I sent him an email earlier in the year saying I was inspired by his zest for life. Whatever his faults, at least from a distance, I think he inspired many like me with health hiccups.
I don’t expect my son even after he reads the book to say “Steve was a good man”. But when he reads that his iPod like Steve’s was filled with Dylan and The Beatles, I hope he at least says he was a “cool dude”.