Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Was Steve Jobs such a Big Deal?

Steve Jobs' death certificate says that he was a 'high tech entrepreneur'. Indeed, but he is more than that: He is an entrepreneur's entrepreneur, an icon, a representative of a generation that is now passing. In his famous Stanford commencement address, he talked about his feeling that 'he dropped the baton as it was passed on from the earlier generation of entrepreneurs'. He was not just a carrier though: He was one who redefined the game.

An entrepreneur exists to solve problems. Steve Jobs was not a technology whiz or a finance guru. Steve Wozniak talked about his 'instinctive feel' of what the people wanted from technology. That makes him a rare genius, because most tech entrepreneurs don an evangelical garb and preach to people on technology. Steve Jobs seemed to have turned this evangelism on its head and became people's voice in the world of technology. That's where he made a difference.

Indeed, he famously said - 'it is not customers' job to know what he wants'. This may seem counter-intuitive in the business world obsessed with research, but this possibly separates entrepreneurial spirit than that of a mere investor. The French economist J B Say made that distinction two hundred years ago, but this seemed to have blurred over time and today, some very unpleasant people sitting in Dragon's Den have become entrepreneurial icons. The entrepreneur's job, however, remains to create, to solve problems, problems known and unknown: Increasingly, these days, this means solving problems that are only emerging but not known yet.

There is a certain beauty of Jobs' life that makes him stand apart. He was the purveyor of beautiful computers, beautiful movies, beautiful phones and mobility devices in our life. He fused the form and function, he helped embed aesthete within the practical. But his failures are more important than his successes, as they seem to give a sense of beautiful desires: He was ahead of his time and failed, but never gave up. He, to quote himself, stayed hungry and foolish, and only a great sense of discipline and duty can make one do that. Like a true entrepreneur, he was not merely practical, but an idealist, a dreamer of things that must be brought to life to make a world a better place.

In a world where things are increasingly alienated from people, Jobs made technology looked humane. That alone makes him a really big deal.

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