Skip to comments.Steve Jobs – A Life In Failure
Posted on 10/10/2011 10:12:55 AM PDT by Shout Bits
This week Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. As a household name, people naturally mourned the man most had never met. Like his historical comparison, Thomas Edison, Jobs was a brash provocateur, did little of the hands-on inventing in his shop, enjoyed a non-conventional libation, and he oversaw monumental failures. Jobs's sometimes nemesis, Bill Gates, has many of the same type-A traits, but Microsoft was essentially forbidden to fail, and that is the reason Apple is worth 25% more than Microsoft today.
Failure is the common thread among all great innovators. Edison's monumental failure was his DC power grid. Westinghouse won the battle to electrify the nation with AC power a vastly superior technology, yet Edison remains the greatest inventor of his time. Jobs's failures were epic the Lisa, Next Computer, the first portable Mac. Under different leadership, Apple also produced the Newton and other disasters. Unlike anything else, failure focuses the mind, redirects resources, and redoubles creative efforts. Most triumphs rise from the rubble of colossal failure. In Apple's case, it teetered on the brink of insolvency at the end of 2000, only to become the most valuable publicly traded company today.
Microsoft also had its share of failures Windows Me, Clippy, a host of failed applications. Microsoft's early history was that of producing a poor first effort, but constantly improving until it dominated the market. The paths of Jobs and Gates diverged when the Government decided Microsoft was too successful. In 1998, a group of AGs and the DOJ responded by shackling Microsoft's creativity; Microsoft essentially had to clear each new idea or product with government bureaucrats. Anything that might leverage Microsoft's strengths in the market was forbidden. Microsoft had become akin to a public utility profitable, but low growth and no innovation. Without the prospect of success, the risks of failure seem too great, and innovation at Microsoft tailed off.
To be sure, Microsoft employees continued to invent new technologies. Microsoft pioneered the tablet PC, touch screen smart phones, speech recognition built into Windows, and a wealth of patents. But Microsoft never bet the farm on any of these innovations, and they never dominated their markets. Most notably, Apple now dominates the tablet market that Microsoft launched a decade ago. Without the incentive and freedom to risk failure, Microsoft lost its way. Now that government oversight has been lifted, Microsoft is aggressively pursuing the markets it pioneered smart phones and tablet PCs. The freedom to fail is the power to innovate and make the world better.
Shout Bits has argued against government interference in the creative process before, but the story of Steve Jobs is the promise of US exceptionalism, while the story of Microsoft is the decline of innovation when the government disallows failure. Jobs lead the true American life. He failed over and over; his life took as many turns as his short years allowed. He founded a Fortune 500 company, lost it, and eventually rebuilt it. Along the way, he revolutionized computers, movies, music, and telephony. Whenever Jobs took on an industry, those working for the established norm packed their bags.
On the other hand, while Microsoft started out disrupting industries with aggressive risk taking, later it was ensnared by government dictates on what was 'fair.' The careers of Jobs and Gates are a cautionary tale to anyone who might believe the government should allocate investments or somehow decide which ideas are to succeed. Even if Pres. Obama had picked a winner in Solyndra, the heavy hand of government would have foreclosed on someone else with an even better idea. Steve Jobs's career was a celebration of the US's unique capacity to tolerate the failures that eventually lead to the innovations that build the modern world.
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Words of wisdom. Well said.
Odd...he holds 313 patents while similar CEO's (e.g., Gates, Ellison, etc) are at best in single digits.
It wasn’t until they came up with the iPod, that Apple became the successful company it is today. They didn’t invent the portable music player, but certainly refined it to the point that it dominated the market.
Jobs biggest failure was to refuse licensing the Mac OS.
But in the end, he was a huge success story -warts and all.
That is what always makes me curious. Jobs gets all the credit for Apple. What about Wozniak? It's like he never did anything important at Apple to put them on the map. Most people don't even know who he is.
In the current anti-capitalist and regulatory hell created by the Obama administration, I have doubts it would be possible to be the same kind of entrepreneur as Jobs.
Ah yes, those halcyon days of "PowerComputing" under Michael Spindler, when the company nearly disappeared.
During those mercifully brief days of the Mac Clones, I thought it was a good idea. I was wrong. And so was Spindler.
Instead of his biggest failure, it may be the case that the refusal to license is Jobs' greatest success.
Sssshhhh .... you’ll greatly upset the Apple/I-gadget people.
The one thing the fledgling Apple did ‘right’ (to help them survive) is to donate tons and tons of Apple computers to schools. Gotta hook those customers while they are still very young and impressionable, you know.
One thing I find really laughable is the Apple people insisting on the evil Intel/Microsoft empire, while their favorite company insisting on absolutely closed control operating system.
Yep, Jobs life was a total failure...
I’m guessing you didn’t read the article...
“Jobs was a brash provocateur, did little of the hands-on inventing in his shop”
I don't know if he held a soldering iron, but his direction nearly bankrupted me and many other people that tried to build a business around the original MAC. His theory (no, really “fetish”) was about all in one, sealed boxes, with no fan. I still remember the smell and sound that came from the original MAC when a component (flyback transformer if memory serves me correct) blew-up from over heating. No need to even consider trying to fix it yourself because the case took a special tool to get apart. The MAC II (which Jobs hated) saved Apple and my company both. Just a big solid box that was maintainable, expandable, and equipped with a fan. The immediately effects of his later return to the company was another all in one sealed up box (i-Mac) which also suffered from heating problems, and some stupid plastic cube. All of which quickly found their way to the land fill. His success came about when he found products that could actually be sealed up plastic boxes that he would have complete control over (i-Pod, i-Phone, whatever that pad thing is called). They are fine, but I look out over a room full of PCs where once MACs sat, and I don't take it as resounding success.
“On the other hand, while Microsoft started out disrupting industries with aggressive risk taking”
Yea, PC Dos was nothing like CPM. Window 1.0 was nothing like GEM desktop or any of the other menu driven, somewhat graphical interfaces. And Windows 95 was nothing like the MAC desktop - of 1984.
“Government decided Microsoft was too successful. In 1998, a group of AGs and the DOJ responded by shackling Microsoft's creativity”
Microsoft was sued when they tried to forcibly bundle IE Explorer with Windows. There was nothing “creative” about it, in fact it was absolutely stupid. And there has been very little in the way of government interference to limit any actual “creative” things for them to do (absolutely nothing would have stopped them from creating a product like the i-pod or the i-phone. The biggest thing that has limited them is their near unhinged paranoia.
And nothing in this article mentions the original MAC development team (probably the greatest group of programming talent ever assembled). Jobs could have ranted and raved all he wanted, but without them, there would have been no MAC.
"Would have"? Try "has."
Just ask Fingerprints Clinton why she's not president.
I also disagree with your statement:
...most if not all of Jobs patents were of trivial or insignificant items but were deemed necessary for protection from competitors.
To the extent they protect intellectual property rights, they are all significant. As to the statement that patents "look impressive to the uneducated eye", I'm one of those uneducated, PhD-holding stupid people who think a patent is impressive. I know what it takes to get a patent and it is anything but easy. Even if they appear "trivial" to you, someone in the patent office thought otherwise. In this one case, I'm siding with the bureaucrat.
I don't know if I'd really call these "epic failures." Yes, they were financial disasters, primarily because the hardware simply wasn't available to do what Steve wanted them to do. But they were still amazingly innovative. There are still people who LOVE the LISA. And a number of features of NeXT systems are now found not only in Macs (MacOS is heavily influenced by Mach, the OS developed at CMU and used on the NeXT) but nearly EVERY computer sold today (no floppy drive, the only IO device being a CD burner).
There's a saying that you haven't failed until you've given up. It's true. Failure allows one to learn from past mistakes, and to weed out the bad while retaining the good. See above.
Ill informed (as pointed out above) Monday morning quarterbacking of a team which happened to win. Why hadn’t Gary Kildall succeeded like Jobs? Or Adam Osborne? They too had failures from which they learned. There is much more going on that learning from failure, which we all do, sometimes to no avail. Where is Steve Wozniak now?
Now that he'd dead, it makes it a little easier.
Ugh. I didn’t think this would devolve into Mac fanboys who completely miss the point of the article.
Woz was a gifted engineer with no business sense or particular ambition. He got lucky to ride Jobs’s wagon to riches. He tried his own company and gave up because he just wanted to relax and do his own private thing. There is nothing wrong with that.
I stand by everything I said regarding Jobs and Gates, and all the attacks are tangential to my point. The other homebrew people did not keep on trying after their failures. I imagine they had good lives as smart engineers, but that is not what the article is about. Their stories make my point, which is that repeated failures are the common thread amongst all great men. Ronald Wayne could have become rich at Apple, but he could not tolerate the risk.
Finally, the article does not tear down Jobs in any way. Hew was not some sort of god, and if you want that sort of thing in an article, I am sure you can find it on a fanboy site.
Both Jobs and Gates played a tough game that often got ugly. They both tried to create closed environments and beat up their competitors. They both took from their competitors, and neither one had an original engineering idea. They were opportunistic and took advantage when the likes of Xerox,IBM, and Lotus left money on the table. There is nothing wrong with any of that in my book.
I still don’t see where you’re getting that from.
Years ago, I read an article that said IBM holds the patent on the cursor. The simple cursor.
Well, you've tried and failed. Learn from failure or blame "fanboys"? Your point about learning from failure is good if unoriginal and supported by at times faulty data (as pointed out by someone else on the thread.) But if you're trying to tell us that "monumental" (your word) failure is a prerequisite to success then you're off the main road heading for the la-la land.
Repeated failure is a common thread among all men! D'uh!
And yet, did the Beatles repeatedly fail? Did Warren Buffett? Did Hugh Hefner, John Ford? Hugh Hefner's Playboy Enterprises is failing now because the marketplace is changing, sliding from underneath the company and plain disappearing. He can adjust, just as Kodak is adjusting, but Kodak is today (or will soon be if it survives) unrelated to the Kodak we all have known, the premier analog photography company. If these companies survive it'll just the names that survive, like the name Packard Bell that someone bought to front a PC computer company. There may be no place in the marketplace for Kodak or the Playboy Enterprise, that's the way it goes. Or, Playboy could go into the computer printer business to compete with a computer printer business company named Kodak.
One more thing. What if anything Steve Jobs learned from his "failures", I don't know. I haven't heard or read anything directly from him about the subject. We talk about those duds as if it was obvious from the start that they would fail. The usual Monday morning quarterbacking. But they failed very late in the game, with many people behind them believing that they would have and should have succeeded. The only lesson and little else might have been that the marketplace is capricious, unappreciative and unpredictable. (Just like a woman.)
I do agree that your article doesn't denigrate Steve Jobs, and it's silly to suggest otherwise.
(It happens at the moment that I don't own or use any Apple products.)
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