Reinventor of Our Planet: Steve Jobs
Always giving his best work to the world, Steve Jobs died October 5, 2011 (1955-2011). His death triggered a remembrance to reading a wonderful On Excellence column by Tom Peters in 1993 (I saved all of his hard copy columns back then that were published in the Chicago Tribune – this particular one can be found here online) and he said the following about Steve Jobs:
Take Steve Jobs, one of Fortune’s seven nasties. I’ve seen him, in his days at Apple, lose his cool on occasion. Not a particularly pretty sight.
Yet I was thoroughly taken aback by one of Jobs’ “excesses,” as chronicled by Fortune. A subordinate at Next Computer was showing Jobs shades of green for the company’s logo. More precisely, she produced some 37 shades of green before coming upon one that pleased the master. “Oh, come on,” the minion recalled thinking, “green is green.”
Oh no it isn’t!
Almost every step Jobs took at Apple (and Next) broke the mold; moreover, it defied industry tradition as set by the all-powerful, undisputed master of the universe (IBM). To say Jobs was fighting an uphill battle is to suggest that Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic was “challenging.” Jobs was reviled and ridiculed. Yet he reinvented the computer world, in a way that makes Bill Gates’ more recent contributions at Microsoft seem meager by comparison.
How did Jobs do it? By worrying about which shade of green was “right.” He triumphed with the Apple II. Then the Macintosh. It was precisely his stratospheric standards (“insanely great” was a common Jobsism in days past) that allowed him and his enormously spirited teams to push past the existing frontier time and time again.
No sir. Green is not green. Not if you’re reinventing the planet. Which is not to applaud his tirades. But it is to suggest that for every disaffected Apple or Next employee burned by Jobs, there are probably 10 who by age 28 achieved Neil Armstrong-like lifetime highs at his side. Perhaps the bitterness of some stems from the subliminal realization they’ll never soar so high again. It’s a nightmare for a 28-year-old software designer, just as it is for 30-year-old Michael Jordan.
My two best bosses were my two toughest bosses. Neither was a screamer, although one came reasonably close. Both practiced psychological terrorism-though neither knew he was doing so.
Both set mercilessly high standards for themselves. And neither believed in barriers to achievement, including acts of God (which were seen simply as opportunities to demonstrate one’s mettle as never before).
We will miss Steve Jobs. But his legacy as the master creator will live on within each of us as we continue to give our best work to the world. May he rest in peace.
Posted by: Laurel Delaney