Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the “Big Picture” opinion column that appears every Monday on Techland.
Author Malcolm Gladwdell recently spoke at the Toronto Public Library and made some interesting observations about our entrepreneurial culture. A good overview of this can be found over at Business Insider.
The basis of his argument was that humanitarians like Bill Gates will be remembered 50 years from now and there will be statues of him all over the third world. On the other hand, people won’t even remember what Microsoft was and entrepreneurs likes Steve Jobs will have faded from memory.
So why aren’t entrepreneurs like Jobs worthy of idolization? Gladwell says, “The greatest entrepreneurs are amoral. It’s not that they are immoral, it’s that they are amoral. They are completely single-minded and obsessively focused on the health of their enterprise. That’s what makes them good at building businesses, but that’s what also makes them people who are not worthy of this level of hagiography.”
I have no doubt that Gladwell’s conclusion about Gates is correct. Since Gates left Microsoft, he has focused the entirety of his work on humanitarian issues. He will surely be known for that — not Microsoft — in the future.
And in a broad sense I agree that most entrepreneurs are amoral, only focusing on the health of their companies. In most cases, over time, they do fade away.
But I believe Gladwell is wrong about Steve Jobs. Sure, Jobs was focused on the health of Apple, but he had a higher goal. In the early ’80s, for instance, Jobs asked Pepsi CEO John Sculley whether he wanted to sell colored sugar water for the rest of his life or join Apple and “change the world.”
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I have worked with high-tech startups for decades and I can tell you that none of the ones I deal with were out to just make money. Time after time, as I sat with them in early meetings, the phrase “change the world” was brought up. And this is a theme that runs deep within the tech startup community even today.
In Jobs’ case, it will be the main inventions he brought to the market that will be remembered 50 years from now — and his name will be tied to every one of them, from the introduction of the first commercial PC (Apple II) to the popularization of the graphical user interface brought about by the Mac to the invention of desktop publishing to Apple’s push to include CD-ROM drives, which launched the era of multimedia computing.
Then there was the iPod, which reinvented the Walkman. The iPhone reinvented smartphones. The iPad has helped reshape what personal computing is all about. And if we read the tea leaves in his biography, he could even reinvent TV as we know it today.
We have another example of this in Thomas Edison. While Edison was a philanthropist, he will always be known more for the light bulb, movie projector and dozens of other inventions that change the world.
Steve Jobs was not a one-trick pony. And he was never in it for the money. Rather, Jobs and his team invented things that changed the world. And for that reason his memory will be with us 50 years from now, 100 years from now and maybe more.
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Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the “Big Picture” opinion column that appears every Monday here on Techland.