Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Jobs’s story reminds us not only of the heroism of the entrepreneur, but of the nobility of craft


Someone was on CNN last night comparing Steve Jobs to Edison, Ford and Disney in one, and for once it didn’t seem like the usual Apple fanboy hype. Jobs had Edison’s flair for innovation (and his ruthlessness in exploiting others’ ideas), Ford’s concern for process, and Disney’s sense of the culture.

So much of what the computer became was made possible or driven by Apple that it’s difficult to separate the two, just as it’s difficult to separate Apple’s story from Jobs’s. Often he wasn’t the first, but he took things that others had tried and failed with and made them succeed, by doing them better (Microsoft’s formula was a little different: it took things that others had done first and did them worse.)

His emphasis on the primacy of design, his fanatical attention to detail, his strategic vision—standing by the closed, proprietary, all-in-one model even after it had been “proved” wrong, long enough to see it triumphantly vindicated—would make him a business legend quite apart from any innovative wonders. That’s significant not only for Apple, but America—at a time when the Big Three and other long-time industrial titans were being eclipsed by foreign competition, often from low-wage economies, Jobs showed how advanced economies could still compete: by innovation, design, quality. And of course, marketing: there really was none better at delivering the sizzle with the steak.

And there’s the sociological impact: more than anyone else, Jobs made technology cool, and not just technology but business itself. I can’t remember young adults discussing business strategy, back when I was one of them, with the intensity that today’s young adults do about Apple’s, at least among the tech-minded. But these days that’s just about everybody. He not only made geeks hip, but made everyone into a geek, at least a bit—including, not insignificantly, women, who in the computer age’s early years would have not been caught dead using a computer, should anyone have thought to ask them.

Before Apple, the scientific and artistic worlds rarely intersected. After, a “techie” was as often as not a creative type. With a Mac, technology could be used not only to make things, but works of the imagination. Artists, musicians, photographers, film makers, even writers—one by one, they all entered the digital world.

I can’t think of any other business figure whose death would have prompted such widespread mourning, especially among people you would not ordinarily have thought would have any interest in business. One well-known tech-girl tweeted last night that she was hugging her MacBook Air while she watched the TV coverage. I don’t think it was just because he made great products. I think it’s the vision he offered of what business could be, what it could mean—that being in business could be a meaningful way to spend your life. Jobs’s story reminds us not only of the heroism of the entrepreneur, but of the nobility of craft: of what an honourable activity it is to make useful, beautiful things for each other, even if you make a fortune doing it. .

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

  1. Gggnnyyyaaa I dunno …in the modern era women have been involved in computers since 1842

    And I dunno if anyone admired Jobs for ‘business’….it was the product…tech…that’s the big thing.

    Nobody would have cared if he sold pork chops or hammers or summat.

    • Ironically, pork chops go well with Apple sauc…….er nevermind.

      • A Brady Bunch reference? ;)

  2. Great tribute Andrew!

  3. I can’t think of any other business figure whose death would have prompted such widespread mourning, especially among people you would not ordinarily have thought would have any interest in business.

    Change “business figure” with “politician” and add in the very visual and public decline in physical appearance and you might find a recent parallel. 

  4. I have been using Apple products since 1980s when my dad started giving me his castoffs when I teenager and have bought Apple computers ever since but never joined the cult. I wonder if Apple will survive long term – will Apple still be here in 10-20 yrs? – or will it disappear like other tech companies. Next Apple CEO better have royal jelly like Jobs did or Apple in trouble. 

    You are more idealistic about what Jobs represents to society than I am Coyne but I don’t talk to tech types so I have no idea how influential he is with some people. 

    Been reading about Jobs life for first time today. Very interesting, life well lived. 

    Daily Telegraph Obit:

    Steve Jobs, who died on October 5 aged 56, was the visionary co-founder, and later chief executive, of Apple, makers of the Macintosh computer, the iMac, the iPod, iPad, and iPhone, and the man behind the astonishing success of the computer animation firm Pixar, makers of Toy Story and Finding Nemo; in consequence he did more to determine what films we watch, how we listen to music, and how we work and play than any other person on the planet.

  5. Insightful, great essay. Thanks.

  6. Well having worked on Mainframes, with Novell Networks, in DOS environments, on typewriters, using Word Processors, Document Management Software, Macro languages, Mail Merge, Email, programming languages, Intranets, PC’s, propriety legal software, Social Networking software … all without EVER TOUCHING AN APPLE PRODUCT I can attest to the bullshit of this column.

    95% of the computers of the world run Windows XP. Steve Jobs is most notable as the guy that Bill Gates trumped. That’s his main claim to fame and while I don’t discount his contributions to computing and business it’s clear that many around the world hated him. Not a word about that from Coyne…

    • What nonsense. I have worked with computers for over 50 years and can testify to the superiority of Apple products. Bill Gates would have loved the success of Jobs who succeeded with both Apple and Pixar. Very few people say that Microsoft made excellent products. Let us hope that Steve Ballmer can improve things with Windows 8.

  7. Steve Jobs was great at taking existing technology at perfecting it but hearing comparisons to prolific inventors like Edison or Da Vinci (heard on a radio show) just make me laugh. Edison gave us the lightbulb, the movie theatre as well as literally thousands of other invention.
    Da Vinci too, who envisioned submarines, cars, tanks and all sorts of other things we take for grante these days the only thing that held him back was the tcechnology to actually build them.
    Jobs’ major claims to fame are the GUI, iPod, iPhone and iPad – items that already existed. True, he took them and made them user friendly and very stylish, but he didn’t invent them.

    • Job’s name is on the patents of hundreds of inventions.

  8. You’ve never met Steve Jobs. You never even saw him in person. You don’t know a single engineer at APPL. You’ve never visited One Infinity Loop. You’ve never created a start-up. Just leave it alone. This is not your subject matter. You have zero cred. Just a bizarre shard of the internet, as if I’d surfed to a blog in Australia or wherever