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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Learning from Steve Jobs: from Garage to World Power!

Learning from Steve Jobs

Ceritalah by KARIM RASLAN

Before we can start talking about the need for innovation or speak of the need to create geniuses, we have to learn that creativity and innovation are first and foremost cultural phenomena.

STEVE Jobs is dead. Apple’s co-founder did more than anyone – and this includes his arch-rival Microsoft’s Bill Gates – to make computing manageable for everyone. Indeed, even my seventy-something mother owns a well-used iPad2.

Jobs’ brilliance lay in his ability to look at technology from the viewpoint of the user, stripping down the complexity and jargon until a machine became a tool in the hand of the user.

He asked straight forward but critical questions: what do consumers want and need? How can I meet these demands?

Instead of producing computers that flaunt their sophistication, Jobs made his devices ever more accessible and simple.

Apple products were the perfect marriage of form and function. They were sleek, intuitive and useful – objects that we enjoy touching and holding so much so that we develop a strange emotional link with them.

In order to achieve this aim, Jobs also upended the way we’ve traditionally thought of music, books and films – freeing them from their analogue formats. He discarded the old-fashioned ways of receiving entertainment and placed his products – the iPod, the iPhone and iPad at the heart of future solutions.

His success was prodigious and extraordinary. At one stage last year, Apple briefly eclipsed ExxonMobil in terms of market capitalisation.

Indeed, it’s estimated that well over 100 million iPhones and 25 million iPads have been sold to date. That the Indian government, on the day he died, rolled out its own tablet computer, called the Aakash (or “Sky”) is a greater tribute than the legions of obituaries.

The global outpouring of grief on Jobs’ death is hence a measure of the man’s reach even in death. It’s also a testament to his iconoclastic style as well as his breath-taking ability to think unconventionally.

Furthermore, Jobs executed his ideas with flamboyance and flair, disregarding the consequences as his various inspirational ideas wrought havoc with long established industries.

Standing back from the man’s achievements, it’s hard to deny that all entrepreneurs have a little bit of Steve Jobs in them.

They all possess a modicum of his verve, dynamism and, yes, madness. Wouldn’t they have become bank managers or civil servants otherwise?

However, we can’t deny the element of luck either: had Jobs died in the 90s, he would probably have been consigned to history’s footnotes, yet another businessman ousted from a company he had founded.

Also, as the son of a Syrian emigrant, Jobs was lucky he was born in America, where the opportunities to succeed were more pronounced than anywhere else.

Indeed, it’s hard to see where else a college dropout could turn a company that he started in his parent’s garage into a multinational with a market capitalisation of US$222.12bil (RM694.78bil).

This is not to say he was some kind of secular saint. His paranoia and abuse of friends and subordinates alike were well-documented. Neither was he a flag-waving patriot either.

Unlike Henry Ford, most of Apple’s products were contracted out to East Asian manufacturers, particularly China, where allegations of sweatshop labour and poor working conditions continue to haunt the tech-giant even today.

Nevertheless, no one can deny that Jobs displayed the individualism and entrepreneurial spirit that are the hallmarks of the American character.

Indeed, if we shift the discussion from Jobs to the idea of entrepreneurialism, we have to acknowledge that we are all shaped by the environment we are born into.

We can separate ourselves from the world that surrounds us on our birth.

So as we start talking about the need for “innovation” in Malaysia’s economy or speak piously of the need to “create” geniuses we have to address the national condition.

Let me ask a question then: what if Steve Jobs were born in Malaysia? Could he have reached the same dizzying heights or would he have been consigned, like so many others, to dead-end jobs.

Alternatively, would he have directed his prodigious talents to chasing after government contracts? I’m not joking.

If Malaysia is to compete in the future, we have got to learn that creativity and innovation are first and foremost cultural phenomena. These are things that you cannot pay for or legislate into existence.

Creativity cannot thrive in an environment where the balance between risk and reward is skewered. Can we truly say we’re allowing people to reach their fullest potential when our obsessions with race and religion are so dominant?

Innovation in Malaysia is hampered by our Government’s constant interventions: protecting and bailing-out businesses and individuals that ought to have gone bust ages ago.

There’s absolutely no incentive for people to think unconventionally if the most important criteria for creating wealth is your “know who” rather than “know how”.

How many Malaysian Jobs’ or Gates’ or Zuckerberg’s have we smothered because they lacked connections or were born in the “wrong” community?

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has declared 2012 to be the “National Innovation Move­ment” year, but it won’t count for much unless we start really rewarding hard work and genius rather than mediocrity or mindless conformity.

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Apple’s Iconic Steve Jobs passes on 

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