Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs: What Did He Mean for Innovation?

I don’t intend to ask what did innovation mean for Steve Jobs, I am interested in understanding what does a colossus like Steve Jobs mean for innovation. Whether ideas maketh a man or vice-versa is a never-ending squabble, but for the average joe like me, a man who lives and breathes his ideas helps make the idea look less abstract, hence more doable. (A simile which I can think of, is the difference between idol worship and devotion to a formless universal soul)

I read this short insightful piece on Steve Jobs by Ajit Balakrishnan (founder of published last month in the Business Standard, where he compared Jobs to stalwart filmmakers like Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. He called Jobs the “auteur CEO”, who “lifted the modern firm out of the Industrial Age and brought it into the Information Age.

Let’s bear in mind that Jobs was not the stereotypical unsuccessful rebel innovator who failed trying to change the “system”. By most counts, Jobs was an extremely successful entrepreneur, which words typically are expected to conjure images of someone who is concerned solely about the rewards waiting at the end of the quarterly rainbow.

In complete contrast to this Orwellian image, despite being at the helm of a multinational, Jobs was and is seen by his peers and millions of tech aficionados as essentially the maverick innovator. I don’t think this was a carefully cultivated image, because masks have a tendency to come off at some point or the other, considering the media glare these days. This means for the most part, the man was true to his reputation.

Why is his success as an entrepreneurial innovator peculiar? I think the answer lies in the fact that most organizations which start off with that idealistic innovative spark inevitably lose that spark as they grow, because there comes a point where growth and shareholder value prevail over that spirit of idealism.

In contrast, Apple reflects Jobs’ obsession with fundamentals- innovative products, products which force the market to put on its thinking hat more than it is used to, certainly more than it wants to, but actually as often as it ought to.

For Jobs, the size of the company did not have a bearing on its innovative capabilities so long as it had its heart in the right place, which means the one in whose hands the reins are, must himself believe in innovation as THE driver, and not just one of the drivers of change. This challenges the oft-spouted wisdom that innovation is essentially a virtue peculiar to SMEs.  

That an entire industry was forced to play catch-up with one man’s vision and zeal is truly an amazing feat, and that he did this day in and day out with such incredible consistency, speaks volumes of the man. What is also relevant is that Jobs’ life is irrefutable proof of the fact that success in the conventional sense need not come with adherence to market conventions. 

In fact, this “verity” has been turned on its head thanks to Jobs, because his life also proves that success achieved through conventional means, in most cases, too is conventional, and hence not out of the ordinary.

“Innovation” has truly benefited from Jobs because he is now a realistic icon for young impressionable minds in T-schools (technology schools) who are tempted to opt for the easy cushy “consulting” careers, and who slowly relegate their engineering skills to the status of “interests”/”hobbies”.

Jobs has given these young minds enough reasons to pursue careers in the tech industry, and in times like ours when major economies are racking their brains about ways of bringing back innovation at the top of the priority list, they couldn’t have asked for a better role model than Jobs.

Here’s a quote from this visionary’s life which in a nutshell captures the essence of his approach to life:

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

In honour of this great man, we will host his videos in our videos link for a month starting today.

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