August 18, 2019 | 73° F

Why Jobs killed innovation instead of progressing it


The fable of Steve Jobs is now ubiquitous in American culture. Most people know about his orphaned upbringing, his endearment for electronics and his innovate spirit. Disciples regale the masses with tales of his courage, dropping out of college and “finding himself” (through rebellious scholastic enthusiasm as well as the hallucinogenic drugs he consumed). He then created one of the most illustrious corporations in the world with Apple, which he subsequently mutinied. Later, he purchased what would become the biggest animation studio ever, Pixar, which he promptly left, returning as CEO and prodigal son of the original brand. Apple was in utter disarray upon his return, yet Jobs was able to right the ship and steer them to great heights. This is the folklore of the 21st century, inspiring millions to follow in his ingenious footsteps. But should it be?

Education is creeping down the list of American priorities. Test scores have declined steadily, far behind the top achieving Shanghai, India and Japan particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, Job’s chosen field. When PISA (a global standardized test) was administered in 2012, U.S. students scored below average in math and science and only slightly above average in reading. This may stem from institutional faults, with the U.S. tied for 37th in the world in education spending as a percentage of GDP. The most important institution for nurturing development is failing, leaving us with a dearth of homegrown employees in positions that require higher education. Regrettably, each subsequent degree achieved is doing less for student’s earning potential once they graduate. Thus, we are left with 20-something-year-old graduates with less skills and less opportunity than we had in the past — certainly not a recipe for success.

In the aftermath of Jobs’ autobiographical book and movie he has gained widespread lionization that was previously reserved for tech geeks and creative types. He is now thought of in terms of the fortuitous position in which he landed. However, his story is extremely unique and should be more of a cautionary tale than one of encouragement. He may not have attended all of his classes, but his desire for knowledge and creation never left him behind. This is atypical for a college dropout and should inform students with similar ambitions that you must have a strong sense of self-motivation to succeed in the job market without the institutional backing or technical training provided by a degree.

Jobs implored the maxim, “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” upon Stanford’s 2005 graduates, yet many people only recall the latter. Theoretically, any person could be his successor, if only they truly stay hungry. Jobs was an extremely resourceful person with a perfectionist attitude, surrounded by extremely talented technicians. One would also need a revolutionary idea in order to emulate Jobs. However, ideas that approach the cultural significance of Apple or Pixar are few and far between. Therefore, instead of embodying Jobs, why not model yourself after Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple?

Jobs didn’t create his original products. Wozniak, nicknamed Woz, engineered the first two Apple computers nearly singlehandedly, as Jobs had little electronic facility. Woz didn’t instill his creative vision throughout the masses like Jobs, but he accomplished a great deal more. Without Woz, there would have been no Macintosh, no Macbook, no iPod and certainly no iPhone. He kickstarted the physical creation, for which he should be revered. His mechanical and creative ability is vastly beyond the scope of the majority of today’s youth, due both to a lack of opportunities and students squandering opportunities. American schools have become incubators of apathy, with learning outside of the classroom nearly non-existent. Maybe this is because people see Jobs, who failed miserably at traditional education, only to follow another path that leads to ludicrous success but don’t recognize that Woz’s contributions are essential and necessary. While Jobs didn’t need the classroom to find success, Woz, the more reticent of the two, would’ve floundered without it.

Rather than encourage education, like Jobs intended, his message has instead inspired us into apathy. Jobs should posthumously edit his Stanford speech to, “Stay hungry, stay educated,” because there would be no Apple without both Jobs and Woz, the combination of inspiration and execution. Jobs also encouraged those Stanford graduates almost nine years ago to “Find what you love,” because, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do” — the hidden moral to the Steve Jobs fable. Many studies of the workplace have found that employee productivity increases when they enjoy their job, so Jobs may be right here. You could stay foolish, like Jobs when he dropped out of Reed college with, “trust that it would be okay,” a luxury many can’t afford. Or you can discover what you love and pursue it wholeheartedly. This is what both Woz and Jobs did, and look how they ended up.

Philip Ripperger is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

By Philip Ripperger

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