Oct 11

Steve: bringing out the best and worst in us

The outpouring of reactions to Steve’s death has been nothing less than astounding. If you were so disposed — and millions apparently were — you could have spent hours and hours reading the various takes on Steve’s life.

Some are reverential. Some go out of their way to be balanced. Unfortunately, a few live at the intersection of insensitive and clueless.

As someone who worked with Steve, I understand and respect those who point out the two sides of the man. He certainly wasn’t an angel. But one can debate forever whether an angel could ever have driven people to create the wonders they did.

What’s hard to accept are the opinions of those who so resent Steve that they can’t even accept the obvious — and will cheerfully insult those who were emotionally distraught over Steve’s death.

To me, people like this have about as much value as those who would picket the funeral of a soldier killed in service of his country.

Gawker reached a new low last week when it published an article by Hamilton Nolan entitled “Steve Jobs was not God.”

Nolan acknowledges Steve’s death as a devastating loss to friends and family, but “The rest of you? Calm down.” To those distraught over Steve’s death, he says, “this type of one-upmanship of public displays of grief is both unbecoming and undeserved.” More crudely, he says “Steve Jobs was great at what he did. There’s no need to further fellate the man’s memory.”

After displaying his heartlessness, Nolan goes on to display his lack of perception. “He made good computers… good phones… good music players… he sold them well… he got obscenely rich…. He did not meaningfully reduce poverty, or make life-saving discoveries, or end wars or heal the sick or befriend the friendless.”

Steve’s revolutions did all of the things Nolan denies, and more. Steve is the one who opened PC makers’ eyes to a better way. His devices are transforming medicine and education. His inventions — and the many that copied them — have helped people rise up against those who have long denied their freedom. They’ve enabled people to embark on careers that were never possible before.

I’ve seen the argument that if we give Steve that kind of credit, we should give the same credit to ExxonMobil. Hey, if it weren’t for their fuel, rescue vehicles could never reach disaster areas with help.

Not quite. The difference is that Steve saw the power of technology way back at the beginning. The lure of personal computers was that they allowed ordinary people to do amazing things. It’s true that no one, including Steve, could foretell exactly what people might accomplish or invent using computers. But he sure knew that this kind of technology had the power to change the world. Empowerment was his passion.

I’m not sure what Nolan’s problem is. Hatred, jealousy, you decide. Whatever it is, it’s made him certifiably blind. He concludes by pointing out that he’s never owned an Apple product, yet “here I am, talking on phones, typing on computers, and reading the Internet every day.” You know, I’ve never owned a Ford, but I still drive a car. Why all the fuss about Henry Ford?

There are a few lines in that old Think different commercial that sums the way the world responds to people like Steve:

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward.

Technology deniers like Nolan devote themselves to the vilifying. But even in his cluelessness, Nolan can’t ignore — because Steve Jobs changed his world as much as it did yours and mine.

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  • qka

    Well said.

  • Fan of Steve

    I think you’re failing to understand Nolan’s motivations.

    Nolan hates Steve because he was successful in voluntary exchange. Steve never used violence to get someone to buy a mac. I know, the idea that he might do that seems completely off the wall.

    But in nolan’s world, it is only violence that is moral. Stealing at gunpoint is moral. Creating poverty as part of the “war on poverty” is moral. Lies are moral.

    Nolan is a socialist, and he’s channeling the popular socialist ideology.

    To him, Steve Jobs was an evil person, *because* he got rich. (quite literally he calls it “obscene”.)

    Trading with people, exchanging value where both parties profit is the moral way… but to nolan this is evil, because nolan wants a handout from people who work for a living so he doesn’t have to.

    I was quite interested, but not surprised, to hear Woz recount in the Bloomberg interview, when Steve resigned, that Steve had read Atlas Shrugged and “based his life on it”. When I think about all the things Steve has done, he is our generations Hank Rearden.

    Anyone who wants to understand Steve, and nolan, better, might find this a good book to read.

    Steve is the trader, he deals with people consensually. Nolan is bertram scudded, he advocates violence and enslavement.

  • Hatred, jealousy? Yes and yes. If you want to read a great response to the Gawker piece, read this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/objectivist/2011/10/06/what-we-owe-steve-jobs/

  • Yacko

    “I’m not sure what Nolan’s problem is.”

    My guess is behavior modifying brain tumor.

  • Saman

    Well said as usual Ken. It was thanks to my Apple IIe that I fell in love with technology and it was again thanks to my first iPhone 3G that I regained my creativity in technology after years lost in the Windows OEM darkness.

    To Fan of Steve: please think. Socalism has nothing to do with it. I am Australian and we are a social democracy. We have a free market, we can get rich, fair balanced taxes and we have universal health care, free education and government subsidised medicines, child care, support for the jobless and aged and our economy is one of the strongest in the world.

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  • Riz

    Nolan is indeed blind and ignorant.

    “Jobs is not an inventor, they are just good at marketing” is what we keep reading from people like Nolan. Really?

    Jobs has 317 patents to his name. Not an innovator eh? His name is on the original iPod patent FGS! Just watch this video produced back in 1987 about a professor using a Knowledge Navigator on September 16, 2011.


    He had been late by just one month — for introducing Siri :-)

  • Greetings,

    I am not a personal MAC user, and I own an Android phone. I do have an IPOD touch. Yet the company that I m a partner in is a huge MAC user as we are in the printing industry, an industry which was transformed by computer design, a revolution which Steve Jobs participated in developing.

    I am not writing to talk about hsi gadgets, his unbelievable attention to the smallest detail, nor his management style, nor his utter brilliance. So many have said so much.

    I have always been a Steve Jobs fan because he was insanely great at conveying ideas. He understood that passion and elegance, and a vision of what could be, was what motivated the soul of humanity. He and Guy Kawasaki, who was one of his wonderkids at Apple in marketing are my ultimate marketing heroes.

    When Steve challenged us to put a dent in the universe, I know that his message was somewhat self serving as it was designed to grow his commercial interests. Heck, that is why we all work, for a living. What is different about Steve is that his message, which I believe to go far beyond Apple and Pixar and Next, was to go beyond just creating, to move beyond sheer existence, and to do something truly magnificent. It wasn’t just about Apple gadgets, it was a roadmap for us all to follow.

    We hear the politicians speak about how to bring American employment and opportunity back from the brink. American manufacturing has been dying for years. America needs to believe again and to drive a stake in the ground to re-take the leadership position in this world as a land of opportunity.

    Steve Jobs built something from nothing. It is true he manufactured internationally but also created tens of thousands of jobs in the United States and he also created many millionaires, inside and outside Apple. Where would Adobe be without Apple?

    The impact of this man is profound and immeasurable in my view. And that my friends comes from a man who is not a personal Apple user.

    Steve influenced my company’s entire marketing stragtegy, how we speak to clients, how we elevate the argument beyond the economic aspects of our products and move our actions towards doing things better than we ever imagined. We talk differently, act differently and drive our organization differently because of the example of Apple and Steve.

    I must say that the think different ad was the most amazing thing I ever witnessed on a television and I knew before the Apple logo flashed on the screen that it was Steve’s work. His thought process, command of details, and disdain for the odinary are examples that this American economy needs to study closely as they could be the gateway to the next American century.

    When Steve resigned, I hired my outside graphics design firm to design a new homepage as a memorial to Steve as I knew he didn’t have long. I just knew that he wouldn’t give up, and yet he wouldn’t allow his creation to suffer because he was gone. He was too passionate and loved Apple too much to let her suffer any more than she would have to. It was clear to me that we had less than a week.

    My design firm was somewhat apprehensive of why I, a PC Head, would be so passionate about this. He created the page that I commissioned and we locked the media up, hoping we would never have to use it.

    The morning after Steve’s death, I took the page live, and wrote to Ken Segall expressing my condolences, and as I expected he responded immediately thanking me. I knew this guy was classy, because he was Steve’s friend. I was honored that Ken wrote me back as he too is a role model that I have emulated in my marketing career.

    My agency called me at noon and apologized to me after seeing the outpouring of grief and he noted that this might have been the greatest thing we ever did together. Perhaps and perhaps not, however, it was important to me to thank Steve for what he did for me and my industry.

    So for those who would criticize the massive grief that this PC head feels right now, leave us to mange our feelings as it will turn into something else. As Steve would do, we will turn adversity into something amazing. Each of us who was influenced in our own way by this amazing human being, will go on to create new tomorrows around the world and in the United States.

    I for one will never cease reminding myself to Think Different.

    I am starting today by heading out to buy an IPAD.