Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Death of the icon

I was one among the millions who mourned the death of the iconic leader of the technology, Steve Jobs. It was a sad feeling of losing someone whom you have admired a lot, whom you have considered as a symbol of inspiration.

I haven't used many of the Apple products, in fact the only product that I own is iPod classic. Just like the name, it is really a classic product. Other products that I have used is either at a store or from friends who own them. I have always considered them as expensive gadgets not in the easy reach of my  budget. Though I have given Mac look to my Linux Desktop, I haven't used any of the Mac systems. So, it is not that I was a great fan of Steve jobs because I found Apple products as great innovations that changed my life. But simply because of the great image I had about Steve Jobs, just because of the stories I heard about him which created an impression of a great character of him in my mind. I never bothered to verify the authenticity of the story that I have heard about him, I just believed it because I liked it. It was mostly from bits and pieces of information I heard from friends, and few other articles, videos I have seen in the internet. Based on that I had my own version of a story about Steve Jobs life, It's like this.

Steve Jobs was adopted by his parents as his biological mother wasn't able to take care of him. They were quite poor, Steve used to walk 7-8 miles to a hindu temple once in a week to have some good food during his school days. During that time he was attracted towards Hinduism, so came to India in search of Nirvana. When he was in Himalayas, one of the saints told him to go back to his country and find greatness in what he was doing, which is his 'karma' and he can't get his nirvana without fulfilling that. So he went back to US and after some time started his company 'Apple computers'. He made use of some of the extra courses on arts he took during his college days extensively to create stunning products at Apple. Soon the company became a grand success, so he hired a CEO to manage the company. However the same CEO fired him from Apple after some time to stop his grip on the company. After being fired from his own company, Steve started another company named NeXT. After some time he also started one more successful company called PIXAR, which was later bought by Disney. However Apple failed miserably after losing Steve as he was the main pillar of the company. So, they had to acquire his company in-order to bring him back and he was made the CEO of the company again. After this Steve entirely changed the look of the company by bringing in a lot of innovative products like iMAC, iPOD, iPhone etc to change the way people use the technology. During this time, he was diagnosed with one of rarest diseases, pancreas cancer and doctors told him that he will not be living for a long time. For a long time Steve lived as though that was his last day. However the disease was later diagnosed to be something that can be cured and he went through the surgery to win against the cancer. He never cared about money throughout his life and used to get only 1$ per annum as salary for his role of CEO. He often used to walk to office in barefoot and lived like a real saint throughout his life.

That was the Steve I knew before. I am sure when I was watching or using any of the Apple products, it is not just the product itself that I was seeing, it also the brand image of Steve Jobs that was adding more colour to those products. When I was watching the videos of him, it wasn't just the words from him that was inspiring me, it was also the path that he walked that was adding more meaning to his words.

However when Apple started having fights against Google over the smartphone platform, I started questioning the story I believed so far. I was wondering why a great person like Steve would question an open platform. When two people you admire a lot start fighting between each other, it is difficult to take a stand as who is right or wrong. When you like someone, you tend to blindly support him no matter what others talk about him. It takes a lot to change that view. I was very irritated by some of the comments about Steve after his death in some of the articles. I was still on the sides of Steve Jobs till I read more comments about him from others like Richard Stallman. So I thought of knowing little more about the life of Steve Jobs. At that time I got to read one of the lengthy article(18 parts) about Steve's life in theregister.co.uk (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/10/06/steve_jobs_bio_1/ and http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/10/10/steve_jobs_bio_2/). I did some more googling based on that and it looked like everything stated in that article was true or close to the truth. Also, it gave some logical answers to the questions I had earlier.

Jobs wasn't a technical person. He was more of a businessman or salesman, so he never really 'invented' any of the products. Rather he was very good at seeing what might sell and putting everything to bring that out to the market. Jobs started Apple along with with his friend Wozniak, who was the technical brain behind early Apple products. Interestingly Jobs had cheated Wozniak earlier of his rightful share, where he used his skills to make some radical improvements to one of the products he was working for. As Apple started growing, Steve started ignoring Wozniak and Wozniak quit the company in protest. During this time, Steve started working on Macintosh, which was originally developed at Xerox. Unfortunately, Macintosh became a big failure due to a lot of issues, but Steve wasn't ready to acknowledge any of his faults to the failure. He also tried to fire Sculley(then head of Apple) from behind, but that backfired and Sculley managed to remove Jobs from the general manager position of Macintosh division. He wasn't fired from the company, only stopped from intervening with the day to day activities at Apple. During this time Jobs managed to convince a team of senior engineers and quietly launched another company called NeXT. When working for NeXT, he bought Pixar which was more of an accident than a strategic move. NeXT didn't make the progress that Jobs was expecting, but neither Apple was able to make any progress without Jobs. So, Apple ended up buying NeXT and Jobs was made the CEO of Apple again. Interestingly, Jobs removed the very person who was the key behind buying NeXT and making him as the CEO. He was also planning to get rid of Pixar as it was struggling to make any progress. Miraculously, Pixar achieved a breakthrough in one of the deals due to some genius people working for it. And that success made Jobs a billionaire in no time. Even in Apple, most of the product design for the iconic iMac, iPod, iPhone etc came from Jonathan Ive, the main design engineer. Jobs was dead against the name of iMac itself initially. Yet the credit for all these products only goes to Steve, not sure how many people even heard about Jonathan Ive. Steve Jobs also had a daughter when he was 23 years, but he refused to acknowledge that he is the father for a long long time. He was also infamous for his autocratic management style and employees were really afraid of him.

Despite all these, Steve had a clear vision of what he wanted and he was able to achieve that. Though he wasn't an engineer, he clearly saw what would sell and what wouldn't. He wasn't afraid of what others thought about him, so just took the decisions that he felt right. As the author wrote in theregister, for every story about a bad Steve, there is an equal and opposite story about the good Steve. An inspiring co-worker, waxing philosophical friend and a devoted family person. Jobs was definitely not a 'good' person, but it is also difficult to frame him as a 'bad' person either. He may not have invented anything, might have taken overly credit for others work, but he saw what people might be interested in, he was able to sell those making them 'iconic'.

After going through these twists, I started thinking about the whole thing again. All the godly attributes that I had attached to Steve Jobs just vanished in no time. He turned out to be just a successful businessman from a great human being in my eyes. Slowly I started to see more greatness in Bill Gates than Steve Jobs. I am not sure whether the Stanford speech that he had given in 2005 would be as inspirational as it was if I knew all these things earlier. I am not sure whether the iPhone will be as shiny as I saw earlier without those godly attributes of Steve Jobs. I felt more sad, lost after reading the article showing the 'bad' Steve than the earlier news of Steve Jobs death itself.

I thought of writing this article after the death of Dennis Ritchie, creator of C programming and major contributor of Unix operating system. Almost no one noticed his death whereas the whole world mourned for Steve Jobs death. Many agree that the contributions of Dennis Ritchie to the computing world is far more commendable compared to that of Steve Jobs. Infact the entire Mac and iOS is based on the Unix operating system, still Ritchie wasn't given the due credit for his contributions.

I have started realizing that almost everything that we have learnt in our history book is overly manipulated, mostly by those in power for their advantage. It is almost difficult to know the history exactly as it happened, but by reading from many different sources with wide opinions, we can get some logical conclusions, at-least for our satisfaction. The more information you collect, more dimensions you will add to the story, often questioning your earlier views, making yourself a fool by believing it blindly earlier. It is like realizing several years later that the match you had enjoyed a lot was actually fixed! There is nothing wrong in making a hero from a normal person, masking all his bad traits and promoting only the good things. It is often helpful in providing an inspirational character for ordinary people to follow. A great personality which can be followed by thousands of ordinary people need to be special, needs to have a clean good image. Because it is often difficult to admire only a part of a personality. We don't admire Ravan for his courage no matter how powerful he was. But if every great personality that we believe in turns out to be an ordinary one, it makes hard to get inspirations from people in future. May be I need to get more matured to find inspirations from ideas rather than the people behind those idea, I need to start admiring a product just based on its qualities rather than the brand name behind it or the greatness of the person behind that product. May be I should partially close my eyes filtering only those things that I like to see. Easier said than done!


Giri RP said...

Good one !!!!

Shruthi said...

Really nice to read this...hw a persons attitude towards another changes...when we get to know the reality..

Kishor said...

Agree with most of it, though I never believed Steve Jobs actually "invented" anything. I just thought of him as the visionary. He had the vision to create the iPod, a portable music player, loads of storage, no carrying of cassettes or cds like walkman, extremely user friendly UI, amazing sound quality. He had the vision to create the iPad, another revolutionary product. I am guessing the other designer, Jonathan Ive then designed the product from Steve's ideas.
So basically, he is just a visionary. He has had a lot of failures, but I think his product successes are much bigger than the failures. He had the "vision to look ahead" and put into the market new products that people have never seen or needed, but then became a necessity for everybody.

Nagesh Adiga said...

Truly said. Its especially true in political scenario.

Netaji, Bhagat Singh, and Sardar Patel were not given due credit. Gandhi has been given lot of credit, and Nehru overhyped.

If I am not wrong, one of our Indian (Hindu) rulers paid money to someone and owned his article as his.

Sathisha said...

thanks guys, for your encouragement.

@shruthi, nagesh
I am always surprised how our attitude changes towards another as we realize more 'truth's about them. Some times we just accept it. But at times we often refuse to accept it and try to defend them instead.

Swathi Kishor said...

Well written article I must say. It is true that media today has all the power as much as we hate it. Rightly said about Dennis Ritchie, about our freedom fighters. Even take the recent 9/11 bombing. It's media that ruled these, actual people's views are not what you get from it. It's what they want you to believe and it's very easily done. I respect your view for admiration and inspiration. But I would start small, there are a lot of people around you who excel in many things you would want to be good at, we just have to appreciate them heartily and be inspired. They need not be iconic. For instance, you have certainly inspired me to write a blog now ;) Having said that, always good to have your own visionary. Just have to choose the one you feel is right not the press.