Thank God Steve Jobs is the Greatest Failure in Business History…


Over at The American, Nick Schulz writes a smart piece on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, stressing the man's failures rather than successes as the key to his contributions to the planet:

Jobs (along with Steve Wozniak) brought us the Apple I and Apple II computers, early iterations of which sold in the mere hundreds and were complete failures. Not until the floppy disk was introduced and sufficient RAM added did the Apple II take off as a successful product.  

Jobs was the architect of Lisa, introduced in the early 1980s. You remember Lisa, don't you? Of course you don't. But this computer — which cost tens of millions of dollars to develop — was another epic fail. Shortly after Lisa, Apple had a success with its Macintosh computer. But Jobs was out of a job by then, having been tossed aside thanks to the Lisa fiasco.  

Jobs went on to found NeXT Computer, which was a big nothing-burger of a company. Its greatest success was that it was purchased by Apple — paving the way for the serial failure Jobs to return to his natural home. Jobs's greatest successes were to come later — iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and more.  

Jobs is a great entrepreneur for another reason. Lots of ninnies can give customers products they want. Jobs gave people products they didn't know they wanted, and then made those products indispensable to their lives.

Schulz applies the lesson of how Jobs learned from his failures to the swamp on the Potomac and concludes:

There's a moral here for a Washington culture that fears failure too much. In today's Washington, large banks aren't permitted to fail; nor are large auto firms. Next up will be too-big-to-fail hospital systems. Steve Jobs is a reminder that failure is a good and necessary thing. And that sometimes the greatest glories are born of catastrophe.

Whole piece here. interviewed Schulz and his co-author Arnold Kling about important book, From Poverty to Prosperity. Watch it here.

And as long as we're talking Apple and Jobs, let's answer the question, Is Your iPod Unpatriotic?:

NEXT: Thank Obamacare for Funding Early Retirement Health Benefits for Procter & Gamble, Kroger, & Other Private Companies! And a Bunch of Public-Sector Workers!

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  1. Next up will be too-big-to-fail hospital systems.

    Very true. Squeezed between gargantuan regulatory costs and their huge fixed costs on the one hand, and refusal to cut benefits while cutting reimbursements, many hospitals will fail under our current policy trajectory.

  2. Jobs is just a great American. I don’t know anything about him personally. But he gave thousands of people meaningful work and livelihoods and gave the world fabulous products that made their lives better. He is the kind of person who ought to be celebrated in this society. Sure there is room to celebrate the guy who spends his life helping little old ladies across the street. But there ought to be more room to celebrate people like Jobs.

    1. Jobs is like a real-life Hank Reardon.

      1. Apparently, Bill Gates is Hank Rearden and Jobs is Howard Roark:…..-good.html

    2. I’m sure he’s a dick, personally, and I find the Apple cult annoying, but I mostly agree. He pushed innovation and stole and/or developed good ideas and got them out to consumers in an easy-to-use form. Without Apple, we might not be as far along as we are with mobile devices.

      I do find the media’s desire to anthropomorphize businesses into the person of the CEO rather annoying, as Apple is chock-full of talent (and has been), and, despite the press otherwise, Jobs didn’t hand carve the iPad from marble that he also created from scratch. However, I don’t blame Apple from taking advantage of that, nor do I blame them for turning the brand into a status brand like Cartier, which is largely what Apple is in its competitive markets (namely, everything except, for the moment, the tablet market).

      1. Incidentally, hope his health gets better. He must be in pretty bad shape–he’s been on leave all year and now resigns?

      2. Sure he didn’t invent the IPod. Hell, he probably didn’t even think of the idea. But, he was the guy who green lighted the project. And that is something. How many CEOs were too brain dead to see the value of it?

        1. Agreed. I’m not saying he wasn’t a good CEO–after all, it’s all about the shareholders, and they should have few complaints–but the company could do much the same without him at the helm. The press around his departure seems to almost suggest that Apple’s future is in question, just because he has left. Total crap. Well, mostly total. I suppose the cult might disband, now that its god has departed.

      3. Ditto what ProL said – Jobs appears to be a dick, not an Apple guy, but that company sure has spawned a fountain of new ideas and things that didn’t exist before.

        Credit where credit’s due – and hope his health improves.

      4. The Apple cult is stupid, but it’s completely voluntary. And I have to admit, some Apple products really are brilliant in their way. I’ll never buy or use them, because I hate their expense and proprietary nature, but all power to those who will.

        Apple cultists really are annoying, though.

        1. I was given an iPod a few years back (when they were really hip) and I had to switch it to RockBox. Not ’cause I like dicking around with that stuff, I just can’t stand being forced to use a program like itunes to stick songs on an mp3 player.

          But let the people who love them enjoy their products, their fucking overpriced products, with their proprietary software that treats you like a fucking six year old. ENJOY!!!

          1. umm, i get all my music from amazon. I’ve only bought one album from itunes.

            1. I mean having to use iTunes to interface with the iPod, unless that’s changed.

            2. I get almost all of my music from Amazon, too, but I do use an iPod Classic (the only piece of Apple hardware I own). The iTunes store is for those rare occasions when Amazon doesn’t offer something for download.

        2. Exactly right. I have no problem with the existence of the cult, and I respect that Apple has helped to push innovation. By being so proprietary and overpriced, they’ve opened doors to competition. They’re considered nondominant in the mp3 and phone business already, and it won’t be long before the iPad isn’t the superior tablet.

        3. I have only 2 problems with Apple: the slavish, tech-media hype machine and Apple’s dickhead user zealots.

          I know many nice, non-zealot Apple fans, but my knee-jerk rejection of all things Apple is set a bit too high. I get that from being on a Mac zealot-run listserve for far too many years.

          So, I’m enjoying what garment-rending there is on Jobs’ departure a little too much.

          1. After reading enough reviews for cell phones by other companies, they all come across as saying the phone should be an iPhone, but without actually saying that. “The new Blackberry Bold doesn’t have enough apps” etc.

      5. Can’t really add anything to this.

    3. Sure there is room to celebrate the guy who spends his life helping little old ladies across the street. But there ought to be more room to celebrate people like Jobs.

      Classic battle of the moralities: producers vs. altruists. One works and produces and incidentally benefits mankind, and one thinks “helping” people is an end in itself.

  3. This guy has left Apple and returned more times that I can keep track of.

    1. So you’re like those birds? One, two, many?

    2. Except he has NEVER “left” Apple.

      The first time he was fired. And then his resignation yesterday after being brought back in and turning Apple in to the largest (market value), most profitable tech company in the world, providing tens of thousands of very talented people with jobs creating products that have changed the landscape of how we interact with technology.

  4. Steve Jobs really is just cool like that. Amazing.

  5. Oh, also, “Greatest Failure in Bidness History” – mmmm, I think that’s the greatest hyperbole EVER.

    I think Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and others had at LEAST as mcuh failure-before-success as Jobs. And a much bigger impact on the world (at this point).

    That is all.

  6. On that last point, I’m reading “Too Big to Fail” currently and the gist of it seems to be everyone involved was simply terrified of what “could” happen and predicted a 1930’s dust bowl as a result of Wall Street chaos. Meanwhile, everyone ignored the fact that hedge funds were doing just fine by NOT panicking and were the ones really looking to pick up the pieces from the collapses, but they were completely ignored. It was a mental trap that led the Treasury to assuming the only possible outcome was utter collapse.

  7. There was a write-up a couple of days ago over at Salon explaining that Apple wasn’t the paradigm of liberal business — Jobs is a ruthless capitalist, and Apple is an amazing success because of it.

  8. If I recall correctly, the Lisa was the precursor to the mac interface.

    Whatever else one might say about the Cult of Apple, the not-DOS interface provided the means for huge productivity gains for a lot of people.

    1. BE-OS (the operating system developed for the NEXT computer) was the precursor to OSX (which is the current MAC OS); it was to get BE-OS that NEXT was acquired and the operating system was worth it. A lot of what has grown out of Apple over the last several years (including mobile device)is directly owing to OSX or a derivative of it.

      1. Ya I think to call either NEXT or Lisa failures is an oversimplification. Sure they didn’t result in immediately making shit tons of money. But they laid the foundation technologically for later making shit tons of money. And they were cool.

      2. You are incorrect. The BeOS was developed by Be, Inc. and had nothing to do with NeXT. At the same time Apple was looking to purchase NeXT, they were also considering Be as a potential choice for the foundation of their next operating system. Many speculated that Be would be chosen, as it was very Mac-like to begin with; however, Apple ultimately bought NeXT and based Mac OS X on the underlying code from NeXTstep.

      3. Wrong.

        BeOS was developed by Be Inc and a French guy who had previously been a high profile executive at Apple. I was a BeOS user for years after I abandodned that piece of shit known as Windows, and before I went Mac. It was a great system and could have been better if if it wasn’t competing against MS and their licensing traps with hardware manufacturers. Be Inc and NeXT were the final two candidates for Apple to purchase when they were looking to save the company and try and find their path with a next gen OS. Be Inc lost out on that. BeOS is now defunct, thought it was, for a very short time, resurrected as ZetaOS (though the intellectual property was owned by Palm after Be Inc sold in the early naughties).

        OS X had its early underpinnings in NeXTSTEP, created by Jobs at NeXT.

        BeOS was never the foundation of anything at Apple.

      4. You are mistaken. BeOS was developed by Be, the company that Jean-Louis Gassee founded after he left Apple. Be and NeXT were the two alternatives that Gil Amelio had to choose between, and he chose NeXT.


  9. Leaving aside anyone’s personal feelings for Jobs, this article is obviously wildly inaccurate.

    The Apple I only sold a few hundred because it was being hand-built by two kids in a garage. It was a computer kit, not a computer, made by a couple of nerd hobbyists for fun.

    Apple II was the first proper personal computer as we’d know it today, and it was a roaring success from the first time it was demonstrated in public.

    Jobs was the first person to realise that the market for a pre-built personal computer was a thousand times the size of the market for kit-computers (and that turned out to be an huge underestimate).

    Also the part about the Mac is nonsense. By the time Jobs was kicked out of Apple, the original Mac had been on sale for about a year. He was micromanaging that project to its delivery – the people who worked on it all tell of how he was obsessed over every detail of it.

    Typical example of an attempt to extract a pattern from some data, and it sort-of works… if you change all the data to fit the pattern.

    1. Correct about Jobs and the Mac. He was trying to micromanage the Lisa project, got kicked off, took over Jeff Raskin’s Mac project, and got it out the door. He didn’t leave until well after the Mac had been released due to a fight with John Sculley.

      If anyone hasn’t read it, Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley is an excellent read on the Mac development. You can also read a lot of the entries at

  10. Daniel is correct, Nick Schulz is way off base in his telling of Apple history. Lisa was a failure, but it inspired a great deal of the Mac’s initial interface and technology. If you look at old videos of the Lisa in action, you would think you were looking at an original Macintosh.

    Jobs was set aside because of his micromanagement and his inability to deliver consistent profits and growth after wild spending sprees. (Remember the 1984 Super Bowl ad?) He was not kicked to the curb, however, he was simply voted out of his position as CEO. He was expected to stay aboard, but he was so pissed off he left Apple, even selling his stock to disassociate himself completely. A guy who has that kind of hissy-fit is perhaps not the right guy to be leading a major high tech firm.

    Nick Schulz would do better studying the computer and technology market as a whole before connecting wild dots together. *All* successful high tech companies have their share of failures; it’s the nature of the business. The good companies learn from those mistakes. Apple (and Jobs) did not, which is why Apple was forever teetering on the brink of collapse in between rare moments of profitability. (Jobs’ successor, Scully, had a Jobs-like moment when he bet the bank on the Newton, leading to his removal.) It’s only when Jobs returned as a mature, battle-tested CEO — exactly the kind of person the Board wanted in 1985 — that he was able to lead Apple to the market behemoth it is today.

  11. I thought it might be worth noting that AEI apparently “Yezhov’ed” Dmitri Medvedev from the photo they chose to illustrate this particular article. I’ll admit I got a little kick out of it.

  12. Also, @Jim and Daniel: AEI are a bunch of partisan hacks, granted, but I think you’re missing the forest for the trees when it comes to this article.

  13. [Insert iPlot joke here.]

  14. Jobs has some virtues, but it was the other Steve, Wozniak, whose insistence on making the Apple II platform open and extendable who is primarily responsible for the success of the Apple II. True, it couldn’t have been done without Steve Jobs, but it also wouldn’t have been possible if Jobs had been able to get his way. Jobs has always wanted to maximize profits by keeping everything proprietary, which is why Apple later lost decisively to Microsoft. For the Apple II, however, Steve Wozniak’s insistence on keeping the architecture open spawned a whole ecology of aftermarket add-ons that briefly assured Apple’s dominance of the early computing market. As Wozniak has noted, Apple did not even have to advertise its product, as all the computer magazines were filled with adds for hardware that advertised that they could be used with the Apple II.

    If Jobs had built on that idea, Apple could be in Microsoft’s position today – but Jobs’ short-term thinking consigned Apple to a distant second place finish. Jobs insisted on keeping all the profits for Apple and trying to keep prices high, and most everyone deserted Apple for what was an inferior product, in everything except its openness.

  15. “There’s a moral here for a Washington culture that fears failure too much. In today’s Washington, large banks aren’t permitted to fail; nor are large auto firms. Next up will be too-big-to-fail hospital systems. Steve Jobs is a reminder that failure is a good and necessary thing. And that sometimes the greatest glories are born of catastrophe.”

    I couldn’t agree with that statement more if I inscribed it on my purse and smacked my congressman in the mouth with it.

  16. Don’t forget the Apple ///.

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