Friday, December 2, 2011

On Success, death and Steve Jobs

A friend's post on Facebook drew my attention to an article about the posthumous tribute-wave for Steve Jobs. For a quickie without following the conversation elsewhere, the article says 'Steve Jobs wasn't great, he wasn't even close' . Among other things, it draws a comparison in terms of greatness, to Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine and gave it free, deciding not to patent it. In other words, who is greater and, mummy, why is Steve Jobs getting all the attention ? I wouldn't have noticed if Ramnath didn't mention it, but after he did, I noticed that it was a 'sad essay, with weak arguments and too many fallacies'.

Great is a generic adjective that spans many fields. For example, a great musician, a great emperor, a great surgeon and so on. You cannot exactly compare greatness in one field with another and often, greatness in certain times, with other times.

In the field of, say, technology business, and in his times he was greater than many of his contemporaries. He did things differently. Many clicked, some didn't, some clicked later. He was thrown out of his company and staged a comeback and then staged a turnaround and rebuilt the fascination full circle. He might have been heavy-headed, but lot of creative/successful people are that. In the field that he chose as his passion, he manifested that passion into results that satisfied him and those he sought to impact. Such success was also acknowledged by others. That, in itself, is what only a small percentage, get to do.

He chose expensive style for his products, and was convinced there was a market for it. In all possibility he could have flopped, thats what the gurus would have got to say. But he defied tradition, the current market gyaan, and clicked, not once, but time and again. To have an intrinsic sense for a niche market, spot it and pursue it, entails the risk of stepping out of your comfort zone and being ready to sink in the process. You need to be grounded in your security with your own self, to be able to confront and conquer the insecurity in the world. It's the stuff true entrepreneurs are made of, or seek to be. We can't think like them and they can't think like us. They better not.

The article questions people's assumptions, success = greatness. But the article also assumes, charity > commerce. Coming from the charity bastion, I should have jumped to agree with the latter, but, sadly, not yet. Even if it were true, I guess we are too far away from that . Those beautiful times are yet to come. It requires our entire civilization, or huge parts of it, to think differently, on complexly intertwined issues: regarding our motivation, our money, our work ethic and our duty as a human on earth. And it will take lots of births for all of us to get there. Call it the critical mass for compassion or the escape velocity for enlightenment. Like in climate change, we have a reputation for refusing to learn until we get whacked thoroughly by Mamma Earth. Inner climate change is not going to be any simpler and Pappa God is going to have a tough time handling us. Hearts, take a lot more time to melt than glaciers. Questions like these are important to contemplate, but the answers need to be well-written.

Finally, think of the praises that arrived as like people attending a e-funeral. A life gone unnoticed or less noticed (say, Salk) is not any different from a life gone well-noticed, after it has gone, that is. In the former case, lives were impacted, sure, but most people may not have related to the individual, so they didn't write. In Steve's case, he too impacted and, it so happens, many people seem to relate to the individual, because the device was such. Interestingly, I noticed a billboard at the Kundarapalli Gate signal in Bangalore, a huge billboard ad by a real estate developer, saying just 'RIP Steve'. It's still an ad, but it shows people who used the devices fell head over heels for the brand. To connect two obituaries and compare their impact, would be like comparing the tears of two funerals, one with 10 people and another with 1000 people. Sorrow is the same for everyone. Death is a great equalizer in that sense.

Of course, great is different from good. To evaluate goodness is a larger call, you need to be able to evaluate the interplay of motives, constraints, values etc and in the light of the operating environment. Goodness is all-inclusive, includes personal life, relationships and even preservation of monuments :) :) , which Steve Jobs wasn't particular about . Greatness, on the other hand, is more explicit, can be segmented into streams, and therefore gets evaluated quickly and easily. You can't evaluate your goodness, because that'll be biased. Others can't, because they have incomplete information. Only God can, but He doesn't publish the papers. What to do ? :) :)

Yes, there was a good Steve and the bad Steve in the same person. Even in judgement, it's sad that someone with such business acumen, had to fall for a fatal over-belief in alternative medicine. People who praise the good Steve may choose to ignore the bad Steve. But, isn't it true that all of us suffer from the good-bad dichotomy ?

That is why the scriptural prayers say : Lead us from darkness to light, falsehood to truth. Lead us from proprietary software to open source. Trap us not into Apple, but deliver us from Microsoft. Give us our daily bread and butter, Facebook and Twitter. But don't lead us to immortality, it gets boring. Life without an end, will be like watching a terrible movie in a dirty theatre, all the time you are wondering, when will the movie end and the mosquitoes stop, and the lead jodi is still dancing around the trees and rolling on the hills , on the screen. Death, disease and dumping are part of the grand game. Sing a kolaveri song to release your stress, and move on to make your life colorful, cheerful and creative. Like a Mac.

Oops, for fair disclosure, like the author, even I don't own an Apple device or share. :) . And probably, that's why I am like this !

THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.