Sunday, January 8, 2012

Steve Jobs, great entrepreneur, failed person

Hi All,
I do realize that Steve Jobs, as a subject, has been beaten into the ground, but I just can't let go of one thing.

I just finished reading the amazing Walter Isaacson biography. It was as good a job as I could have hoped for from any book about such a recently departed icon. And throughout Jobs is a completely captivating figure.

One thing that really stuck out was his complete ability to focus. If he wanted to do something nothing was going to get in his way. He could literally bend heaven and earth. And time and again in the book there are examples of how he was able to move mountains to get his way. To do the impossible, to bend the will of people, institutions, whatever it took. It was one of his defining characteristics.

His feuds were legendary, his successes epic. And it seems that each one of them was accounted for, in some detail, in the book.

Yet there was one area that was deemed so trivial by either Isaacson or Jobs that it wasn't even discussed in the book at all, which shocked me. And that is Apples' long black history as a perpetrator of inhumane working conditions in its Chinese factories.

Not even one mention of this, not even one paragraph.

And yet it is one of the things that defines Apple as a company, and Jobs as a human.

This is amazing, this lack of concern for other people. Jobs was so obsessed with every aspect of production that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and wasted hundreds of man hours, making sure the factories where his NeXT machines were built were painted the exact right color.

This he had time for. But there was no time, or concern shown, for the thousands of Apple laborers in China who make those amazing machines that we all love.

Either this was an epic failing of Jobs as a person, Isaacson as a writer, or both.

Look, I know I am not treading on any original ground here. The monologuist Mike Daisy has done more to publicize this issue than I ever could. Yet I still can't go over it.

Jobs was such an obsessed, involved perfectionist that he argued about the placement of a period on a business card for days. He chose the exact shade of blue, from the exactly right stones, for the floors in his Apple stores, and would accept nothing else. He sought to control every aspect of design, and the user's' experience, for his projects. Every single one.

Yet when it came to the working conditions of his factories he just didn't give any sort of good god damn at all. How vexing this is. How inexplicable. How impossible to understand in any way.

Did he not know? Why was he content to cede control of his production in this one area? Why did he not even seem to care even when these things were pointed out to him? Why was Apple so behind the curve time and again, when it was revealed that the working conditions in their factories were so hellish? How could Jobs allow the reputation of his beloved company to be so besmirched, when he, if anyone, could have changed things?

And he if took a stand for things to change for the better he would have gotten his way, because he almost always got his way. Nothing could stop him, except his total lack of a heart for the abused workers, some children, that made his iPods, and iPads.

How could a man who seemed so enlightened fail so hard in this one area that is so important?

Apple workers committed suicide, the conditions were so bad. Why didn't Jobs care? Why didn't Isaacson? Why was Jobs not confronted about these obvious atrocities?

Jobs cared about the user experience with his devices in an intimate way. Why didn't he care about the people who made these devices in any kind of way at all?

And why didn't Isaacson call him on it?


Kiri said...

Well, I hear you, Dave, but this is human nature. My father is a brilliant businessman but an absolutely, positively lousy father. Additionally, I just read a rant that my ex wrote on social media about how poorly waiters are treated. He felt really, really bad that waiters are treated badly. The same guy who cheated on me with men for years feels bad for waiters! Okay, ya know. People are strange.

Stephanie said...

Well said, Dave. I like this post not just because of the content, but also because the writing was particularly great. I still don't understand why Steve Jobs seemed to be an awful father to his older biological daughter. Shameful, really.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Kiri,
I wish it didn't seem so clear that so many great businessmen were failures in so many other more meaningful ways. But it seems to be the case all the time. I have seen it all too often.

Thanks for such kind words. I was also horrified by his treatment of his daughter, and she seemed to never really get over it. And could anyone blame her?