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Why entrepreneurs look to Steve Jobs for guidance (and why they shouldn't)


There's something about the juxtaposition of Apple stories and religious imagery that hits Wired magazine's design team right where they live. In 1997, the magazine's notorious 101 Ways to Save Apple story was represented on the cover by an Apple logo circled in a martyr's crown of thorns; this month, cover subject Steve Jobs is graced with both an angel's halo and a pair of devil's horns. (If we get to a cover of Tim Cook, Jony Ive and Scott Forstall dressed as a minister, a rabbi and an imam, I'm canceling my subscription.)

Ben Austen's story, about the impact Steve's legacy has on today's entrepreneurs, is worth a read. Whether they take the Jobs story as a model for business behavior -- don't accept anything but the best, push people as hard as you have to, rules are for the other guy -- or as a cautionary tale, there's no figure in business as compelling or polarizing as Apple's co-founder. Austen got takes on Jobs from Square engineer Tristan O'Tierney, Box founder Aaron Levie, StackExchange's Jeff Atwood and Metafilter's Matt Haughey, among others.

Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson told Austen he thinks many of his readers are drawing the wrong lessons by focusing on the abrasive nature of Steve's personality, rather than the true keys to his success. Isaacson published a corrective essay in the Harvard Business Review (paywall) covering 14 core characteristics that helped make Steve (and Apple, and Pixar) successful.

For company founders, managers and leaders who take Steve Jobs as their model, my observation is this: Yes, Steve Jobs maintained the loyalty of his closest colleagues and got incredible work out of a vast enterprise while, it is generally believed, treating people like shit. You may think that this is an approach worth emulating, but you should also remember that you're not Steve Jobs, and you may not get away with it the way he did.

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