This past Sunday, perhaps the two most saluted business magnates in the world made headlines after the surviving one made supposedly wounding remarks regarding the merits of the other’s legacy. This isn’t the first time this year even, that comments attributed to Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, were largely hyperbolized in service of the mythologized tech circus. This isn’t to say Gates’ summation of the late Steve Jobs to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria was all cherries and roses either.
The principles of leadership
Besides being a well-crafted, technically sound movie, we love David Fincher’s The Social Network because it’s fun to imagine that the dweebs that drafted the blueprint for how the entire world spends its every waking second (or used to, at least), were more akin Shakespearean cheerleaders; forever at each other’s throats, making backdoor deals and selling our Social Security numbers to the Illuminati.
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At one point during Zakaria’s GPS special, Gates referred to Jobs as an a–hole. There are more than enough demo fail videos, testimonials and uncomfortable anecdotes floating around to spare this slight from a trial, though I doubt very much that its character was nearly as compelling as the Machiavellian madman too preoccupied with changing the world to be bothered by things like courtesy and raising a daughter or whatever, as depicted in the unintentionally hilarious Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, and then again in the intensely quippy Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender and penned by Aaron Sorkin. The same inclination that makes us uneasy to accept Mark Zuckerberg, as a smart, dad jeans-wearing dork, or Jobs as a smart turtleneck wearing “a–hole”, begs us to read more into Gates’ barbs than was actually present.
The wizarding world of Steve Jobs
Starting with the bit that’s currently headlining the media circuit; towards the backend of the chat, Gates likened he and Jobs to wizards, unfavorably adding that the latter had the world (barring himself) under some sort of hypnotic enchantment. Even before I had watched the televised interview and only read the transcript, the comment struck me as a broad reference to the famous Arthur C. Clarke quote, more specifically his third law. I could be wrong, of course, but even still the sharpest aspects of this analogy were meant to be somewhat comical.
As a vivid allusion to Jobs’ near superpower of “picking talent, hyper motivating that talent, and having a sense of design,” Gates playfully said it was like he was “casting spells”. As something of a “ minor wizard” himself, he recalled being deaf to the late investors’ charisma illusions, even while acknowledging the sheer power of them. “When he did the NeXT introduction, which is a computer that completely failed, it was such nonsense and yet he mesmerized those people.” Gates continues, “Wait a minute that spell should not work at all, it doesn’t have any reality to it.”
The actual nutrients of Gates’ sit down with CNN didn’t come in the form of his account of he and Jobs’ amplified rivalry, but rather in his sober estimation of what it takes to effectively light an enterprise to the finish line and beyond; the principles of leadership. Gates isn’t an entrepreneur. There isn’t a throughline between the influence of Microsoft and the guy behind a successful chain of restaurants. The consistency and continuity that defines Apple and Microsoft are energized by passion and non-material objectives. The dedication to these principles at times made both founders at times unpleasant men. Gates, by his own admission, allowed the intensity of his expectations and goals to go too far occasionally, concerning the pressure placed upon his staff. He imagined the same odds were true of Jobs, concluding to Zakaria :
“It’s really easy to imitate the bad parts of Steve. He brought some incredibly positive things along with that toughness …Steve is a very singular case, where the company really was on a path to die and it goes and becomes the most valuable company in the world with products that are really amazing. There won’t be many stories like that.”
Unfortunately, Jobs was deprived of the opportunity for his aims to advance, though history suggests the process to be, if not inevitable-encouraged by time. These days, a Gates cameo in the news more often than not owes itself to the philanthropy practiced by him and his wife, Melinda. In a recent blog post, the humanitarian blushed to remember how rigid and limited his aspirations were in his early to mid-twenties. “Back then, an end-of-year assessment would amount to just one question: Is Microsoft software making the personal-computing dream come true?” Gates wrote.
He went on to index the way these measures have evolved into his sixties: “How many new things have I learned today? Did I develop new friendships or deepen old ones? Did I devote enough time to my family? These questions would have been laughable to me when I was 25, but as I get older, they are much more meaningful.”