My answers to A hypothetical Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement address gives some clues (as does 60 Minutes story and David Coursey’s Forbes article), but again, there are no right or wrong answers. Here is my attempt:

For the real Steve Jobs:

  1. Had graduated from college? Would have been much less successful.  The timing for the start of his career would be wrong and the conventional thinking of a college degree wouldn’t have been the best first step on the road to thinking differently about technology.
  2. Not had been fired from Apple? Would have been much less successful. The world (and Apple itself) needed to see an Apple without Jobs to properly value his contribution.
  3. Had not started Next? Would have been much less successful. Integrating Next into Apple was required for a corporate executive and DNA transplant to reinvigorate Apple. Next allowed Jobs to start over and its Unix-based OS laid the foundation for OS X.
  4. Had not bought Pixar? Would have been much less successful. Media and entertainment are essential to Apple’s current success, and Pixar’s cash was needed to keep a then financially strapped Apple afloat.

For the Steve Jobs’ doppelganger:

  1. A brash, young SJ2 at Jobs’ first Apple (pre 1985) Fired. Not a hypothetical—the real Steve Jobs was fired! No reason to think the doppelganger would do better.
  2. A brash, young SJ2 at Scully’s Apple (1985 – 1997) Not hired. A poor fit for their new culture.
  3. A brash, young SJ2 at Jobs’ second Apple (post 1997) Could do well, but likely fired. While Apple is all about thinking differently, thinking differently from the real Steve Jobs wasn’t the road to success.
  4. A brash, young SJ2 at Gates’ Microsoft (pre 2000) Fired. Completely incompatible.
  5. A brash, young SJ2 at Ballmer’s Microsoft (post 2000) Instantly fired. Completely incompatible.
  6. An older, experienced SJ2 at Ballmer’s Microsoft (post 2000) Not hired or even interviewed. Too old.

And I can just see the poor annual reviews that would lead to his firing. Boilerplate nonsense like:

Lacks vision and teamwork skills…needs to improve impact and visibility within the organization…has a poor understanding of technology and what is feasible…needs significant personal growth to be successful…

The amazing thing about this thought experiment is to realize just how incredibly unlikely Steve Jobs’ life and contribution was. It was a perfect storm of unlikely events:

  • To think differently and develop his aesthetic sensibilities, Jobs had to not graduate from college, take art classes (along with a variety of other things…)
  • To have such impact on the industry, Jobs had to start as an early executive.
  • To have a compatible culture, Jobs had to be a company founder.  Given his demanding personality, it’s unlikely that Jobs could have climbed somebody else’s corporate ladder.
  • To reinvigorate Apple, Jobs had to fired from the company he started…and later rehired!
  • To drive the necessary hard bargains in with entertainment and media executives, he had to have the right connections and be a media executive himself.

The most incredible part of this story was that Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. Think about it: Steve Freakin’ Jobs was fired from Apple! How is that even possible? (A: Apple’s own board didn’t truly understand Apple or Jobs. And perhaps Steve Jobs didn’t quite understand how public companies—and human beings—work.)

Corporate America is now praising Steve Jobs as an extraordinary visionary and innovator—as it should. But despite its constant talk about innovation, Corporate America prefers to play it safe. Safe, trivial innovations are acceptable, but people who strive for courageous, disruptive innovations are often rejected like some foreign anti-body. I can’t help but wonder how many SJ2s are out there who will never have the opportunity to shine. The odds are stacked against them, as they were stacked against the original.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs, 2005

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