The U.S. celebrity machine thrives on a set-em-up-and-knock-em-down cycle so it’s not surprising that the latest film about Steve Jobs is highly negative. However, perseverating on Jobs’s problematic personal relationships is completely missing the point.
CEO’s that treat people like crap are dime-a-dozen. There was nothing unique about Jobs’s management style. What was unique about Steve Jobs was that he pushed technology towards simplicity rather than complexity.
The overwhelming obsession of the high tech industry is to push towards greater complexity by adding as many customer-requested features as possible while still maintaining backward compatibility.
The entire high tech industry–from engineers to marketers to management-values complexity and therefore tends to create products and services that become ever more complex. Examples abound:
- Software (Salesforce.com come to mind) that keeps adding features atop a 1990′s style drop-down menu structure, rendering them increasingly difficult to use.
- Consumer electronics devices with hundred-button remote controls and screen that display dozens of sub-screens and visual folderol.
- The unquestioning belief that attaching a computer attached to anything makes it better, even when a computer decreases both reliability and security.
- Endless attempts to market products based upon an exhaustive list of features and functions that are of little or no interest to the buyers of that product.
Steve Jobs throughout his career, took the opposite approach: he consistently sacrificed backward compatibility and functionality in favor of simplicity of design. Again examples abound:
- Creating a new, GUI-based OS for the Lisa and Macintosh rather than building out the wildly-successful Apple II.
- Only allowing a single button on the original Macintosh’s mouse despite the success of two button mice on IBM PCs.
- Creating a new, touch-based OS for the iPod family rather than attempting to shoehorn the Mac OS into that environment.
- Refusing to support Java on the iPod family for security reasons even though it meant that many websites would not work properly.
- Vetoing the presence of upgrade slots to the iPod family to support added memory and non-Apple hardware.
These decisions were all highly controversial at the time, especially among the high tech punditry and the powers-that-be, all of whom view the world through an unquestioning “complexity=goodness” filter.
By contrast, there was little or no complaint within the high tech world when, in similar situations, Microsoft made decisions that added complexity to their products. For example:
- Continuing support of clunky MS-DOS in successive versions of Windows.
- Proliferating of buttons and controls on Windows keyboards and mice.
- Continually attempting to force the Windows design onto handhelds and phone.
- Supporting applications that can alter each other and the operating system.
- Supporting thousands of devices on Windows PCs through the open bus.
This is not to say that these were bad decisions on Microsoft’s part. However, they were easy decisions that ruffled no feathers. Quite the contrary; in high tech circles, Microsoft is beloved compared to Apple, which is seen as uncooperative and difficult to work with.
However, when you get outside the cloistered world of high tech and into the real world of everyone else, the situation is reversed. As easy as it is to make fun of Apple fan-boys, it’s undeniably true that many people love Apple’s products.
Real people (meaning those who don’t work in high tech) don’t want products that make their lives more complex. They want products that make their lives easier, which is only possible through simplification.
By contrast, it’s unusual to hear people from outside the high tech industry express great love for Microsoft’s products. Most of the time, you hear a variation of “it’s almost as good as Apple but cheaper.”
That’s not love; that’s settling.
In order to create products that inspired love (thereby making Apple the most valuable company in the world), Steve Jobs spent his entire career fighting against the most-deeply held beliefs of nearly everyone else in his industry.
Steve Jobs innovated against the grain, flouting conventional wisdom. That’s what makes him unique and worthy of emulation. The fact that he made some enemies in the process and some mistakes in his personal life is utterly irrelevant.
Geoffrey James, Professional speaker, award-winning sales blogger, and author of Business Without the Bullsh*t and How To Say It: B2B Selling. Follow @Sales_Source