October 25th, 2011
As a marketer, as a consumer, as someone who appreciates genius and beautiful design – as a human being – I was tremendously saddened by the death of Steve Jobs.
Every homage to him, every video, every shrine feels right and well-deserved. But there is another side of Steve Jobs that is important, as well.
Steve Jobs was a failure. Not once but several times over. How about the Apple III? It was so poorly designed that Apple suggested owners pick it up and drop it a few inches when it stopped working.
Or Lisa? Now that was a spectacular failure. Though significant in many respects, the grossly overpriced machine survived for about 18 months before it was discontinued. Apple ultimately dumped 2,700 Lisas into a Utah landfill to capture a tax write-off on the unsold inventory.
That was, of course, after Apple had spent $50 million on developing Lisa.
But of course, the ultimate Jobs “failure” was getting unceremoniously shoved out of his own company in 1985 by a more politically-astute John Sculley – a big-company executive.
And after getting dumped by Apple, NeXT didn’t do so well, either.
On and on. Over and over.
“We Americans have a terrible habit of distilling stories of our great men and women into simplified and boring sound bites of success while ignoring the long, crooked, difficult, brave roads they took to realize that success,” says Augie Ray, author of a wonderful blog post called The Failure of Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. “We like to believe that success is what defines the American spirit, but the truth is the opposite: failure is what defines the people who achieve greatness.”
I’ve been thinking about how many of us could or would have “come back” from the truly crushing (and very public) failures Jobs endured. Thrown out of your own company? A spectacular product failure? His story is obviously unique, but size these disasters down to something that could happen to any of us and ask yourself what you would do.
How would you feel? Could you still be a leader, a seeker?
This is a dislocating time for many, and everything seems weird. I would advise the average executive as follows: be certain of what you care about, do something about it, and stay focused on what’s really important. Know your story. Believe in your story. And just keep going.
When talking about getting booted out of Apple, Jobs once said, “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
No one could have said it better or with more credibility.
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