The miraculous Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was worth $100m by the time he was 25. Frankly who would begrudge him?

Oh, I know. Form a queue.

But Jobs and people like him – Steve Wosniak, Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla – are responsible for a world where 50% of the jobs now available didn’t exist 20 years ago. They are fulfilling, clean and interesting jobs. The fact that we are not educating our children to the level where they would qualify for an average wage of £160,000 pa in Google’s UK operation is not Google’s fault, nor Jobs’s.

The miraculous Steve Jobs was a once in a lifetime, absolute, stone genius. We were elevated by his very existence, and his loss is incalculable. It’s right we should celebrate him, and everywhere you look at the moment there’s another Steve Jobs film, interview, documentary.

In 2013, Ashton Kutcher, a tech fan and investor (and a bit of an actor on the side), starred in Jobs, a film described as ‘inaccurate’ and ‘lacklustre’.

There were much higher hopes for 2015’s Steve Jobs – directed by Danny Boyle, from a script by Aaron Sorkin and starring heartthrob (and proper actor) Michael Fassbender. But it, too, upset Mac fans. They know the story backwards, fast forwards, inside and outside and every tangent-ways you could think of. And their problem was: it simply didn’t tell the truth.

The Kutcher film is on Netflix, and you can catch up with the Boyle/Fassbender version on Virgin Movies.

But maybe you’d be better off hearing it from the horse’s mouth. However committed to ‘the truth’, film makers will always add their gloss, their prejudice, their take.

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, also on Netflix, is a 1995 face to face, and is notable for being an interview where the subject is allowed to talk. Interviewer Robert X Cringely asks a question, and then lets Jobs answer. Maybe the revolution will be televised!

Steve Jobs wasn’t known for his charm or his manners. But you wouldn’t know it from this interview. He’s not exactly charming, but he is articulate, thoughtful and has clearly given much thought to why things go wrong as businesses grow. His thoughts about what companies should do, as much as the products he helped bring to fruition, should be paid serious attention.

He had been talking about IBM (which, in 1993 had posted an $8bn loss, the biggest in history at the time); and Xerox, a radically innovative company that lost its way for reasons he explains. This is him talking about why frontline operators end up running big corporations, and why they shouldn’t.

“PepsiCo changed their product maybe every 10 years or so. To them a new product was a new bottle.

“So if you were a product person you couldn’t change the company.

“So who influences the company? The sales and marketing people. Therefore they were the ones who got promoted and they were the ones who ran the company. Well, that might have been OK for PepsiCo.

“But it turns out that the same thing happens in technology companies that develop a monopoly. Like – oh – IBM and Xerox. If you were a product person at IBM or Xerox, so you make a better copier or a better or a better computer, so what? When you have a monopoly market share, the company’s not going to be any more successful.

“So the people who can make the company more successful” (by driving bigger volumes of existing products) “are sales and marketing. And they end up running the companies.

“The product people get driven out of the decision-making forums. And the companies forget what it means to make great products. The product sensibility, the product genius, that brought them to their monopoly position, gets rotted out by people who have no concept of a good product versus a bad product. They have no idea of the craftsmanship required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. They have no feeling in their hearts really about wanting to help the customers.”

Jobs, of course, was chased out of Apple in 1985 by a former PepsiCo Chief Executive, John Sculley, who Jobs had lured away to run Apple. Sculley’s main discipline was marketing. That’s what’s called a hard lesson. A dedicated product guy, learning on the job that marketing is king, and then getting fired for his pains.

Jobs, of course, turned it all around. Sculley was shown the door in 1993. Jobs returned in ’97. From then on it was iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad and iMac all the way to Apple becoming the world’s most valuable corporation.

He also proposed (and this was, remember, 21 years ago) that everyone should learn to code. Computer coding, he says, teaches you to think.

It is an irony that in an  era of education where we are told that pupils need to ‘learn how to think’ the one thing they are not teaching is computer coding. But we can’t put that failing down to the miraculous Steve Jobs.

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