Monday, June 23, 2014

The Visionary and Messianic Steve Jobs

Through interviews with friends, former colleagues and business associates, GAME CHANGERS reveals the many layers of the intensely private Steve Jobs - his style of leadership, management and creative process. Interviews include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Apple CEO John Scully, journalist turned Venture Capitalist Michael Moritz, Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Apple "Mac Evangelist" and Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki, and Robert X.Cringely technology journalist and former Apple employee.
Steve Jobs grew up in the countercultural 1960s, but he probably had that rebellious streak already coursing in his veins.  So he merely found the place that resonated with his true nature.  For anyone to be a true visionary, he or she must be able, first, to see the future.  Second, that future is something that many cannot see and, third, is something radically different from the present.  It was the Tao of Jobs - the Way of his nature - to re-imagine the very things that many could imagine only simplistically and narrowly.
A very remarkable man, extremely smart, spell binding, mesmerizing leader of people. 
"Spell binding" and "mesmerizing" sound positively messianic, and paradoxically not also in a positive way.  He wasn't just visionary, he was also messianic.  The conventional translation is that he was good at marketing and selling.  Oh, but he was more than that: He managed to get people to buy into his vision, to follow him, and to sell their soul to him.  If they were not with him, then they were out, at best, or they were against him, at worst.
He said, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?" It was like was someone just knocked the wind out of my stomach.  A few weeks later, I was working at Apple.
John Sculley had the misfortune of being drawn into, and thrust into, a complex, volatile cauldron that he was virtually clueless about.  In the 1980s he managed to get the Apple Board to side with him, and the man who co-founded the company, the man who hired him, was unceremoniously out.  Time is sometimes a rude bearer of sad tidings, and that was to be the pivotal, defining truth for Sculley.  He thought he could see the future, when he said that Jobs wouldn't be missed at Apple, but he was no visionary in the least.
After Steve left the company, it lost its compass, lost its mission, it lost its founding spirit.
By the mid-1990s, Sculley himself was out, as it should have been a decade earlier, and new CEO Gil Amelio unwittingly found himself as yet another key player in an ocular drama.  The MacIntosh launched to breathtaking fanfare, courtesy of an ad campaign that invoked George Orwell's 1984, but it sold poorly.  Next was, literally, the amazing NeXT computer, but this, too, didn't take in the market.  Bankruptcy loomed, so he felt it was better to ditch the fancy tech toy and sell its operating system.  In the meantime, Microsoft was ascending with its Windows operating system, and Apple needed its own counterpart product.  So Amelio acquired NeXT.
There began what I think is the greatest turnaround in the history of corporate America.
Jobs' 2005 commencement speech at Stanford may be the most prophetic, but that's something many of us say only in retrospect, that is, after the fact of his death.  That October 5th day in 2011, and subsequent days, were reflective and stunning.  In Memory of Steve Jobs poured out of me.  In the end we face another truth, but more paradoxical, I think:  The business enterprise, culture and language, that was Apple, were nothing in light of his death and yet it was everything that defined his life.
The penalty for failure, for going and trying to start a company in this Valley, is non-existent. There really isn't a penalty for failure, either psychologically or economically.  In the sense that, if you have a good idea, and you go out to start your own company, even if you fail, you're generally considered worth more to the company you left, because you've gained all this valuable experience in many disciplines.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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