Wednesday, 19 October 2011

An atheist's view of Steve Jobs

It was two weeks ago today that the world started an outpouring of comment on Steve Jobs and his sad death. As it is sad whenever anyone dies... a bit of a tautology that is repeated by every media outlet whenever anyone famous dies of any cause at any time in their life.

Apple's website is still, two weeks after his death, showing the memorial photo any time you visit the website.  A day of memorial one would expect.  A week might be appropriate for the founder and CEO of your company.  But how long will it now stay up? Will it be dropped, unceremoniously, without notification, after three weeks? Or a month? Or will they keep it there for a year?  What is the appropriate amount of time to grieve for someone you didn't know at all, except through the vicarious the spotlight of celebrity?

Candles outside the Apple Store, London

The outpouring of emotion, such as flowers and candles laid outside the Apple store in London, echoed the sudden quivering of the traditionally British stiff upper lip and ultimate breakdown of the previously stoic public into a collective, sobbing, emotional wreck, when Princess Diana (or Mrs Diana Windsor, as some might prefer it) sadly died (see the flowers below).

Flowers outside Kensington Palace
Then, as now, I find myself wondering why people care so much.  Surely, it is because the person (Jobs, Diana) was famous? That people felt that they knew them? Or was it that they found the death of a celebrity a useful catharsis for them to release pent-up emotion for some other, more private, loss?

I am not a psychologist and shall not attempt to understand it, suffice to say that I don't.

However, another phenomenon seems to have occurred around the death of Jobs.  Stories of him being a bully and a tyrant have finally seen more widespread coverage since his death, which allows one to reasonably address the fact that far from being the best CEO in the world, his is a case study that should be used in business schools to show how a great leader should not behave.

An apparently obsessive care for the detail of products makes a great product designer, not a great boss.  A culture at an organisation where people fear the CEO does not make for the best working environment.

When Jim Collins studied exceptional leaders and came up with the concept of a 'Level 5' leader who enabled great change at an organisation that survived a change of leadership and continued to make the organisation highly successful, he  described parable of the fox (which knows many small things) and the hedgehog (which knows one big thing).  Jobs was probably a hedgehog - he knew how to make great products and charge customers a premium for them.

Ansoff's Growth Matrix
When discussing technology innovation on the masters courses, Apple is frequently  cited as an example of an organisation with a great growth strategy - for product development and diversification - creating new products for existing markets and creating new markets (as per Ansoff's Matrix shown here).

Through the use of iTunes, Apple have also managed to ensure casual customers become loyal customers (achieving market penetration).

It is also worth remembering how much Apple's stock has risen recently, from an average of $7 to $10 for most of its life to 2004, to a current $420 - showing how much the iPhone and iPads have radically changed Apple's revenue structure.

Apple stock from 2000 to 2011 from Yahoo! Finance
So it can be safely stated that Steve Jobs was a great CEO in delivering value to the shareholders and creating products that became market leaders for several years after launch.

Image by Edward Eustace
But that is it.  The deification of Steve Jobs is somewhat unnecessary.  I realise that posting a blog about him is perpetuating the impression that he is the only person of worth who has died.  His inventions certainly changed the technological landscape by influencing how Microsoft developed Windows (the OS that most people still use) and how mobile technology can become ubiquitous.  Interesting to note, by the by, how Microsoft make no mention of Apple's use of the WIMP interface (Windows, Icons, Menu, Pointing device) in their own potted history of Windows.

The BBC documentary in May 2011 showed through MRI scans how "Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith".  The theory (by Dean Hamer) that there is a gene which predisposes people to being religious or having 'spiritual experiences' helps explain my own perplexed view of the Apple faithful (or iCult as it has been dubbed).

So if Hamer is right, I am genetically predisposed to treat all evangelicalism with it for Apple, football, or one of the many gods.

The Church of Apple has many devotees - and a higher than average percentage of them work in the media - helping fuel the constant messages of Apple omnipresence.

But in the end, us atheists must pray, with ironic tongue firmly in cheek, that sense will see the day, reason will out, the blind shall have their veils lifted and that everyone shall see that there is no god. There is only:

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