From Geek to God, an Odyssey – Steve Jobs, a Creation Story

All men have need of the gods…*

The news from the corporate world in January 2011 that Apple CEO Steve Jobs was for a second time on medical leave indefinately was very sobering. For someone whose whole adult life seems to have been in one way or another connected to Apple computers, it is with some ambivalence that I reflect on what that means for Apple, and the world at large, when their powerhouse executive is no longer guiding the helm. It will be difficult, and different, but over the last decade he has gathered together many great and good people around him to support his vision and he has become one of a team of talented individuals who work together for the greater good. And, it is always good to remember that, in the scheme of things no one is indispensable although they can be sorely missed.

Steve Jobs presence, and the products Apple has produced over the years certainly loom large in our family and its journey through life. As he traversed the road from Geek to God and became part of his own creation story we rode alongside him using Macintosh, Apple, Powerbook, G3, G4 and finally iMac, iPods, iPads and iPhones. Whew. Wish they had established a points reward system years ago, we would all be way out in front.

My eldest son was born in 1968 the year the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. It seems to me that it had far more impact on history and people than the book of Revelations and perhaps even Homer’s story of Ulysses, in the Odyssey. Although I will stand corrected if I am wrong. 1968 was also the year the Intel Corporation was founded by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. Its innovative processors would go on to become the technology that makes much of the current world tick, including the world of products produced by Apple.

In April 1976 when my eldest son was only seven, and his siblings five and three years of age Apple Inc. was founded by Steven Jobs and his colleagues Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. So perhaps it is not a coincidence today my eldest son’s greatest interest is technology, science and sci-fi. And, that he works in a world of advertising, creativity and websites.

A great deal has happened in between it is suffice to say. All of it has had some sort of an impact on our family, perhaps as much as William Tell’s family when he shot the apple off his son’s head. We certainly didn’t have to resort to archery, although son number two was a fair shot with a bow and arrow growing up shooting a number of ‘Robin Hood’s (one arrow into the back of another).  But I digress.

Out of three sons perhaps the eldest benefited the most initially, because he was leading his X generation into the whole new world of PC’s (personal computers). He was encouraged at every stage to take the journey, going off on his own aged twelve to America to attend an Atari Computer Camp, as it was one of his first computers prior to becoming Apple Mac focused. In his final year of school in 1986 he published his secondary school’s year book on his MacIntosh II computer. It was a first for his school, and among his peers. Years later when going for a job in advertising when he told that story his potential employers were agog because it was at the point of pioneering in Australia.

Look now how mortals are blaming the gods, for they say that evils come from us, but in fact they themselves have woes beyond their share because of their own follies…*

Steve Jobs. There has been so much written about the man that perhaps my few words would hardly seem to count. Although I would like to think those I do write are constructive not destructive. I can only look at him from my own perspective and endeavour to be objective, not judgmental as so many people today alarmingly tend to be. It is certainly an aim of mine to take people as I find them, not as others tell me that I should. Inevitably that can lead to far more challenges, but hey, at least I am dipping my toe in the waters of life.

Steve Jobs seems to me to have been a highly creative individual. who immersed himself completely in his creative career choices. Over a twenty year period he went from being a real Geek, in terms of his public ego and profile, to becoming a total God – completely self effacing and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. His vision has always been long term, which a lot of people, especially banks and financiers often find difficult to support. Good for him that he found one at least in multi-millionaire Mike Markkula, who provided not only essential business expertise but also funding of $250,000 for incorporation.

We are too often wanting instant fame and overnight success rather than embrace an old Latin tag such as il festina lente, or make haste slowly. If we choose that way to proceed, while it may sound boring, it can lead to building a far more solid foundation on which to support a lifelong journey.

Jobs’s ego, like many confident young men before him, probably caused a great deal of frustration and heartache in his youth and on his earlier corporate journey. It certainly seemed to have got in his way a great deal. Comments about, and disagreements with other colleagues in the industry attained high status.

When Apple went public on December 12, 1980 it instantly created more millionaires (about 300) than any other company in history. Would it have been that we had bought some shares, rather than property. They would have returned far more profit than any real estate package over the same period.

Eventually in 1984 Steve Jobs was fired from the firm he founded by the board. Left to wander in the wilderness for a decade he turned his creative forces to great account. He also learned that instead of being competitive with everyone,  the best strategy for him was to become far more enlightened about his approach and also become inclusive. By exercising self control Steve Jobs gradually made far more effective decisions, without depleting or dismantling his creativity in any way. While he was separated from Apple he made brilliant choices that broadened his horizons and experience enabling him eventually to return as a successful CEO to assist the company in a dark hour of need.

Back in the starring role he became a true leader, using less rhetoric and far better communication. This allowed him to also embolden others. And, he has helped many I am sure step outside their comfort zone to achieve success. He has certainly empowered many to create, which has led to far greater choices. This has monetarily and in many other ways benefited he, his colleagues, economies, shareholders and the community at large.

The relationship he built with English designer Jonathon Ive since he joined Apple as head designer in 1992 informs this view. It has allowed Jobs the time to refine his role as a forward thinking CEO. This approach is highly evident in the podcast and conference broadcasts we have listened to or watched in recent years as he was busy launching the latest products from Apple. He has created, in his second incarnation at Apple, a community for people to belong to. Much the same as Oprah has done in the television world.

Humans are individually and communally creatures of habit, who enjoy social interaction,  being in community and, doing things together. They really need to belong. The flood crisis recently in Australia reflected that fact as people put aside differences to join forces to battle a common foe, the fury of nature.

Following his return to Apple in 1992 Steve Jobs spent a great deal of time researching and studying people, their habits and their expectations before launching Apple’s new products in their own sensational new stores. He has surely perfected the art of retail, launching aesthetically pleasing to look at super service oriented spaces that feel great to be inside, to be connected to and to be part of. Millions want to belong and be part of their success. The huge queues and huge profits inform this comment.

There is no sense of humbug these days about Jobs. He is minimalist in approach and his own aesthetic, while maximizing experience and enjoyment for others. His journey from being a young outstanding Geek in a world of men playing it safe has been equal to that of ancient Greek hero Ulysses in the great epic journey The Odyssey. Perhaps even twice over.

His 2005 Stanford Commencement Address was often inspiring and very enlightening.

As he has learned to come to terms with the God within, like many others I am sure, it is hoped he will be resurrected once more. And, if he can overcome the challenge he is facing with his health, he can continue to aid society as it struggles to build a sustainable world, at least for a little while longer.

Don’t get the idea that I think Steve Jobs is perfect. Far from it. Flashes of the old arrogance and his explosive temperament still emerge, albeit briefly. Like the rest of us he has many demons inside that he is constantly wrestling with. True creative genius in my experience seems to require a certain fixation, or focus on self. Most artists of the past inevitably painted their own portraits aided by reflection. The trick is not to step over boundaries into the realms of true narcissism and become an introvert. The reality of the present requires of us all, compassion, cooperation, connectivity and communication.

What Jobs has proved incidentally, or intentionally is that by understanding our weaknesses we can learn how to anticipate and avoid mistakes. By being thorough and realistic in terms of personal or professional growth, we can all continue to move forward to embrace the brave new world.

Since 1997, Steve Jobs has led Apple, which surely in the world of the 21st century represents one of the greatest business success stories of all time. Jobs was on the ground with the rise of the PC. He revolutionized his chosen industry, rocked the music world and business by introducing the iPod to listen to iTunes. He has enhanced business by catalyzing the smart phone revolution with the iPhone. And, he has created an entirely new category of product for both personal and professional use with the iPad. Theories associated with the relationship between economics and society and economics and ethics are indeed complex. And theory and practice often poles apart. However it is the wealth of experience that Steve Jobs can offer the next generation of youth that is of significant importance. It is worth surely, much more than gold. And, it is to be hoped that, once again, he will return to complete the Odyssey.

Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind. For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished horn bring true results when a mortal sees them’…*

© The Culture Concept – Carolyn McDowall, January 2011

*Quotations by Homer – from The Odyssey

Footnote: Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th, 2011

Vale Steve Jobs

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