Saving Steve Jobs' legacy from a 'Successories' future

Article Highlights

  • While adding “in bed” may make bland comments amusing, adding “like #SteveJobs” doesn’t make dumb ideas interesting

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  • The legacy of Apple’s founder is following the inevitable path of managers trying to channel their inner #SteveJobs

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The legacy of Steve Jobs appears to be following the inevitable adoption arc from bleeding edge to Successories; today’s WSJ describes managers’ often excruciating attempts to channel their inner Steve Jobs, and apply his management secrets to their parochial situations.

As the authors note, “Mimicking Mr. Jobs’s keynote style and adopting catch phrases like ‘one more thing’—the words Mr. Jobs often used to introduce products—may make bosses think they’re operating more like the genius himself. But it has provoked plenty of eye-rolling among staffers.”

This isn’t new, of course; in consulting, an innovation deck wasn’t complete without the obligatory references to Apple and Google.  It’s also very common within companies for advocates of ideas (occasionally profound, more often not) to invoke Jobs, especially when presented with contradictory information.  Common response: “Well, as Steve Jobs said, ‘customers don’t always know what they want.’”

Perhaps the most awkward example I’ve seen – albeit involving Apple rather than Jobs directly – was an academic speaker at an innovation conference pointedly emphasize his use of an Apple laptop “like most of the other creatives in this room.”  So uncomfortable.  So bad, in the Paul Fussell sense of the term.

The obvious problem here, of course, is that while adding “in bed” may make bland comments amusing, adding “like Steve Jobs” certainly doesn’t make dumb ideas interesting – or executable.

"I worry more that as the tao of Steve is progressively absorbed by the mainstream, it risks becoming yet another Great Management Technique Everyone Should Know – and being commoditized and devalued accordingly." -- David Shaywitz

I suspect this trend is likely to be self-limited, however, given that the misappropriation is generally as painful as it is evident.

I worry more that as the tao of Steve is progressively absorbed by the mainstream, it risks becoming yet another Great Management Technique Everyone Should Know – and being commoditized and devalued accordingly.

It’s far too important to suffer such a common and ignoble fate.

What Jobs evokes and awakens in so many of us – especially those in business (see here and here) – is a reminder that we each have the opportunity to author our own life, and to make a difference in the world, a dent in the universe – and to do so in a fashion that celebrates originality, embraces passion, and believes deeply and fundamentally in human possibility and humanity’s promise.

Are you going to get there by mechanically adopting Jobs’ catchphrases and wardrobe?  Unlikely.

But if you quote Jobs – hell, if you go whole hog, and adopt the black turtlenecks, the glasses, the works – but do this not to mimic Jobs but to remind yourself of his message and of your own potential, and if in the process you are genuinely inspired to “think different” – this seems like a worthy outcome.

Even if it’s also a tagline.

David Shaywitz is an adjunct scholar at AEI.

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