Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM & FM, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011.
This week the world marks the passing of Steve Jobs. If Chrysler’s Lee Iococca was the CEO of the 1970s, then Apple’s Steve Jobs may well be remembered as the CEO of the 2000s. He’ll certainly be remembered for producing the coolest, most sought-after products of a generation.
Steve Jobs and his friend Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer in the Jobs family garage in 1976. Their idea was to produce a computer that was affordable and easy to use.
If you can imagine your son dropping out of college and telling you that he and a friend were going to hole up in the garage and work on a plan to offer weekly pleasure excursions to the moon, you’ll have some sense of how far-fetched the idea seemed in 1976.
Yet the Apple II computer of 1977, with its graphical user interface and the little pointing device called a “mouse,” changed computing forever.
Apple went on to revolutionize the music industry and the mobile phone industry and is now in the process of revolutionizing media and the publishing industry – all to the complete delight of consumers all over the world.
So what lesson is there in the story of Steve Jobs? As I think about it, what hits home is that we count on America’s garages (and kitchen tables and spare bedrooms).
Not everyone who pursues an idea in his garage is going to wind up creating a worldwide icon like Apple. But a meaningful percentage of such dreamers will wind up establishing successful businesses. Many ideas that are hatched by garage entrepreneurs will lead to the germination of companies that hire people and pay taxes and contribute to their communities.
And once in a while, one of them will change the world.
Such is the power of the individual with the animal instincts and the courage to take risks and try things. America became the wealthiest country in the world on the shoulders of men and women who had an idea and had the courage to run with it – almost always in the face of doubt, derision and long odds.
If we would honor the memory of Steve Jobs, we would go a long way in that regard by remembering to keep the path clear for the guy in his garage. If you want the next Steve Jobs to emerge, make sure that those with the capital to invest in his idea have the right incentives to do so. Remember that every dollar you tax away from the wealthy uncle or the guy putting money in a venture fund is a dollar that the next Steve Jobs might have used to come up with the next iPhone.
Keep the alphabet soup of government agencies and bureaus out of the way. Every minute and every dollar spent meeting the growing and often capricious demands of government is time and money that won’t be spent hiring people and trying new things.
And most of all, if some guy comes up with some idea in some garage somewhere and gets fabulously rich, don’t make him a demon. He’s a hero.
Steve Jobs was a very wealthy man. But he didn’t steal a dime of it nor did he accumulate his wealth at the cost of making someone else poor. In addition to the taxes he paid, Steve Jobs did his “fair share” for the economy by hiring 39,000 employees and creating a worldwide market for what they produce.
America is perhaps the only country on Earth that could have midwifed a company like Apple.
We would do well to remember that and to remember why it is so.