Finding the Next Steve Jobs


Like so many, when I heard that Steve Jobs had died, I was both greatly saddened and worried for how the heck were the rest of us going to get by without him.

And isn't that the ultimate compliment?

For in addition to bringing so much beauty and joy into the world and to creating one of the most admired and profitable companies of all time, Steve Jobs was one of the few leaders in this incredibly complex global business world of ours who really seemed to know what he was doing.

Didn’t he have that supremely important sense of how to design, market, and deliver products and services that we all really wanted

And in his greatest trick of them all, didn’t he and Apple really give us products and services that we then found out that we really needed as well?

Steve Jobs' ability to do this again and again in the "TED" industries that so define our modern world - technology, entertainment, and design - make him if not the greatest businessman in history, then certainly in that so rarified conversation.

Now the challenge for the rest of us is to a) create market and societal conditions so that the next Steve Jobs is as likely to happen as possible and then b) to find and back him or her with every penny we've got.

Let’s leave a) to the sociologists and focus ourselves on b), or How to identify the right entrepreneurs to back.

Ok, say it: Identifying the next Steve Jobs is an absurd and impossible undertaking.  Statistically speaking, it is way too needle in a haystack.

But if Steve Jobs ever let statistics decide for him, he would not have accomplished 1/1000 of everything he did.

No, as opposed to statistics, let's evaluate three meta-themes that embody much of the “Steve Jobs way:”

#1. Have a maniacally consumer-centric vision and approach;

#2. Be confident and even arrogant enough to believe that you can play and win in big, global markets;, and

#3. Be a great organization-builder.

For better or for worse, #1 and #2 above fall into the category of “you know it when you see it.”

So for our purposes here, let's focus on Steve Jobs as an organization-builder – arguably both the most under-rated and important part of his legacy.

Steve Jobs as an organization-builder can be best summed up by Robert Pirsig’s famous definition of quality as being "the result of care."

Wasn’t everything about Steve Jobs the result of care?

The way he meticulously prepared for presentations.

How involved he was in Apple's recruiting processes - personally conducting thousands of hiring interviews.

And, of course, his famously exacting design standards and his exhortations to Apple's engineers to do their best work.


And then go and to do better work still.

While times and products and markets and strategies radically changed over his long and storied career, his paying attention, his caring, did not.

So in the entrepreneurs we choose to back, let’s look for this caring above all else. 

It is a good for its own sake.

And oh yes, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 its stock was trading at $3/share.

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