Steve Jobs is Silicon Valley’s Babe Ruth, but Where’s the Next Generation of Leaders?

I used to meet with Steve jobs in the 1980s, when he was lauded as a visionary. To be honest I wasn’t that impressed with him.

Sure, he deserved credit for the Apple I and then Lisa, which turned into the Macintosh but it was too early to tell what he was capable of doing. Lots of people are successful in Silicon Valley and he was among them but you never know how much luck is involved.

In the case of Steve Jobs it wasn’t about luck. Steve Jobs stands out because of his consistent success, he’s hit more balls out of the park than anyone — he’s Silicon Valley’s Babe Ruth.

The Wall Street Journal put together a page of Steve Jobs quotes, it’s worth taking a look. Here’s a few that stood out for me:

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.” [Wired, February 1996]

“You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” [The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 1993]

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” [Fortune, Nov. 9, 1998]

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” [Apple Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer Inc., May 1999]

“The problem with the Internet startup craze isn’t that too many people are starting companies; it’s that too many people aren’t sticking with it.” [Fortune, Jan. 24, 2000]

“[Innovation] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. … it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” [BusinessWeek, Oct. 12, 2004]

“I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” [On Bill Gates, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1997]

While it’s unlikely that Silicon Valley can produce another Steve Jobs we should by now have quite a few new leaders. But where are the Larry Ellisons, Scott McNealys, Andy Groves, Bill Gates, etc?

We have Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Max Levchin… Maybe. Time will tell as it did with Steve Jobs but it seems to me that there’s a very small pool of potential standout leaders compared with 20 years ago.

And that’s a shame because forceful, charismatic personalities do well in our society and they help educate and push things forward in ways that marketing messages cannot do.

People are inspired and motivated by people — not by products. Yet our tech press has become an incredibly dull product press – breathlessly reporting about a new HTML feature or the fact that Skype now has an app directory.

Most of the tech press is rewritten news releases about things that matter little and are quickly forgotten.

Within this dull media environment it wouldn’t take much for someone with just a fraction of the charisma of Steve Jobs to standout. But dull breeds dull and that’s probably why we lack a new generation of leaders capable of evangelizing a brave new world where technology and society combine to produce something truly wonderful. The tech press focuses on consuming rather than innovating.

I’m reminded of my favorite quote from “Shit my dad says.”

“Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn’t invent it, you just bought it.”

Consuming is not innovating. Buying is the lowest form of participating in innovation.

Steve Jobs is an innovator — we need more like him but where do we find more innovators?. This is why I like the “Maker Movement” — there’s some fantastic creativity and innovation happening there. Check out the April 2011 issue of Wired magazine for a very good overview.

The Maker Movement is like the early days of the Homebrew Computer Club, where Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and many others, soldered their own primitive computers together, and collaborated on solving key problems. And from those humble beginnings massive, world changing products and technologies emerged.

A Homebrew Computer from the Computer History Museum collection.)

The Maker Movement is likely where the next Steve Jobs and the next generation of leaders will come from, imho.

 

[Cross-posted at Silicon Valley Watcher]

About Tom Foremski

Tom Foremski is a former Financial Times journalist. He has been covering Silicon Valley since his arrival from London in 1984. In May 2004 he became the first journalist to leave a major newspaper to make a living as a journalist blogger, publishing Silicon Valley Watcher - reporting on the business and culture of innovation. Tom’s understanding of diverse technologies and his access to global business leaders, make him one of the most prominent media influencers in the technology world.