Steve Jobs and the Motor of the World

I don’t think I would like Steve Jobs. From all I have read, he is irascible, grumpy, and condescending. Some call him arrogant and mean. In business, it’s his way or the highway. He is not your warm, cuddly type. I may not like him, but I sure as hell admire him.

When Apple and Microsoft were battling it out in the marketplace for dominance, we in business classes used to smugly berate Jobs’ refusal to license out his operating system as did Bill Gates. Most of the people in those classes couldn’t manage a two-car parade or sell beer on a troop ship. Jobs could, and much more.

The world runs on the fuel of intelligence and drive. Creators may not always be likable, but they contribute more to humanity than all the hugs and warm platitudes offered up in the name of human kindness put together.

I remember well working on a computer for the first time. It was as big as two large commercial refrigerators and packed less power than my smart phone. Way less. I had never used a computer, so I tracked down the only computer professor at Centre College and asked for help doing a regression equation. It was not pretty, though I made it through it, and further experience with computers was to wait more than 15 years.

By that time, Cindy was in graduate school and I was starting to feel the call back toward school myself. She suggested that we get a computer. I responded, “A computer? Why on Earth would we need a computer?” I was about to discover why in a big way.

After being admitted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado, I learned that most everything was done on computers, not legal pads, and that this thing called “e-mail” was like a letter, but a lot faster. Who’d a thunk it? And I didn’t have to hit “Return” for a new line when I typed. Whoa.

The first computers we used as students were the tiny-screened Macs and DOS PCs. We were just entering the GUI interface era in full. It did not take long for me to realize that the computer would allow me to do things I never could have dreamed of before. And they were easy to use! Now I am one of the “first movers” in using educational technology where I work. What a change, due in large part to Steve Jobs.

Jobs was one of, if not the driving force behind a radical concept–that every home should have a computer. He took a tool that only scientists and IT professionals had used and made it something that all of us could have and use to our benefit. Jobs set out to change the world–and did.

It may take a large company to finish the job, but every radical idea starts with an individual. Liberals are fond of saying that we are all part of some great entity called “humanity” and that standing out by having too much money or reveling in one’s superior abilities is wrong. Conservatives are upset when the old ways that have evolved slowly and then crusted over into permanence are broken up by some smart aleck who should leave well enough alone. Neither recognizes the magic and the power of a man or woman who sees farther, dares more, and acts decisively.

Yet for all his/her contributions, the Creator is not universally admired. He/she is as often castigated for greed as praised for greatness. His/her companies are attacked with antitrust laws and smothered in regulations by people who cannot or will not take the bold step of doing good, preferring instead to suck just enough blood not to kill the host. The Creator lives by building; the Parasite by mooching.

Ask yourself the next time you vote for a politician that promises to “level the playing field” or “make the rich pay their fair share” what goes along with that. Would you rather live in a world that attacks people like Jobs, who has done more for humanity than any politician or bureaucrat ever has, or one in which the parasites are kept at bay and the Jobs of this world multiply and flourish? One way leads to mankind’s proper destiny–master of his condition; the other to bland equality or a pathetic worship of the past.

Australians have a saying: “Cutting the tall poppy.” The Japanese call it “bending down the nail that sticks out.” We Americans don’t need a saying–we just send people to Congress who tell us how unfair the world is. And what does Jobs say about all this? Probably nothing. He is too busy changing the world.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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