Learning from Steve Jobs

Learning from Steve Jobs

Robert McCreary, Social Studies Teacher - NPHS

If you ask the average person what “deviance” means, they probably will say “bad behavior” or “something having to do with crime.”  Those are certainly important concepts and behaviors within the broad topic of deviance but it is certainly not the only part.  By definition, deviance is any action or behavior that goes against the norm.  Basically, any behavior that is uncommon to the majority of people in a group and/or society would be an example of deviance.  Of course, assaulting someone is a deviant act because most people do not use violence towards others as a method of interacting.  Coloring your hair is deviant.  Shaving your head is deviant as well.  So is being a phenomenal athlete.  These behaviors or traits, although different from the norm, are not punishable by law and certainly are not all bad.  Just different.  People may look at you a little funny sometimes but you are probably not going to go to jail. 

That brings us to the late Steve Jobs.  The enormously successful leader of Apple was a pioneer in the computer industry and led to the creation of revolutionary products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad.  Before and after his passing,  Steve Jobs received worldwide praise for his impact on the electronics industry and for humanity as a whole for that matter.  He will certainly go down as one of the world’s most influential people.  That is certainly high praise for any one person.  But did you know that Jobs was extremely deviant?  It is true.  He would never have attained the success he had if he wasn’t.

Before the iPod was created, electronic companies around the world were in a knock-down battle to see who could make a better CD player.  Panasonic, Sony, and RCA, among others, tinkered with the CD player concept in an attempt to gain better market share.  More buttons, less skipping of CD’s, more portability, and lower cost were just a few of the options researched and then marketed so that consumers would hopefully pick their brand off the shelf and buy it.  Millions, possibly even billions of dollars, were spent by those companies to improve CD players and improve sales.  And then Steve Jobs came along.

He basically said, “we are not going to follow the lead of everyone else.  Making a better CD player is just a race to the bottom.  Apple is going to do something different.”  And boy did they ever.  The iPod was created and almost overnight the CD player was totally obsolete.   The major electronic companies lost billions and now had to play catch-up.

Next came the cell phone.  Like the CD player, all the major players in the game fought to see who could make a cell phone just a little better than everyone else.  New ringtones, throw in a camera, text messaging service, and other bells and whistles followed.  And then Steve Jobs came along.

Once again, he did not do the “normal” thing.  Instead of making a phone that was just slightly better than the competition, he revolutionized communication and accessing information with the iPhone.  The major players again had to scramble to play catch-up.   And so it went with the iPad as well.  It is not surprising that when just about every electronics corporation is currently struggling and posting profit loses in today’s down economy, Apple is continuing to gain profits with no end in sight.

There is a valuable lesson here not just for companies but for individuals as well. 

If you want to be the best, you cannot be like everyone else.

Most people are average.  I don’t mean to imply that being average is a bad thing.  There is nothing wrong with being average at anything.  However, there are many people who want a lot more than what “average” will bring but never change their behaviors accordingly.  In other words, they continually act like ordinary people and expect to be extraordinary.  It doesn’t work that way.  When I coached, I used to tell my players that if they truly wanted to win a championship, they could not afford to practice, play, or think like other teams.  Most teams do not come in first so it would be pointless to act like most teams.  A student who wants to get all A’s cannot act like their friends who are getting B’s and C’s.  You have to be different.  You have to be deviant.

But we Americans are complicated people.  The moment anyone is or tries to be different, we collectively pounce on them with harassment, ridicule, bullying, criticism (both constructive and not), sarcasm, and shunning.  This, of course, provides a lot of incentive to be like everyone else.  But we don’t reward people or companies that act like everyone else.  It’s a great irony in America.  We throw enormous amounts of money at people who are different.  Great athletes who don’t play like the average player make millions.  Great singer/songwriters who have a different style stand out and receive praise and lots of money.  Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and companies like Apple receive enormous profits by standing out and being deviant.  But we also put a tremendous amount of energy in trying to get people to conform to “normal” behavior. 

The next time you feel the need to ridicule someone for being different, be careful.  You may be working for them some day.