Steve Jobs - Philosophy, Psychology & Legacy

31 Oct 2011  (Updated Aug 2012)  

Whilst the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is a worthwhile read that makes many interesting observations, it doesn’t pull the pieces together and build either a clear philosophical or psychological profile of Steve Jobs. In this article I want to address that issue, I want to take my readers on a journey into the mind of Steve Jobs. I want to make sure that when you have finished reading this article, you’ll have something more than just an intriguing set of historical facts in your head, you’ll feel qualified to have a proper deep meaningful intellectual conversation about Steve Jobs.

The extent of Walter Isaacson’s failure is apparent the moment you start reading the reviews of his biography in the press. For example, the book review at the Financial Times starts “Those seeking clues to national revival in his success are likely to be disappointed”. What they are saying is that there is little other American businessmen can learn from Steve Jobs, he was a one off eccentric with a lot of magical marketing tricks up his sleeve who succeeded so spectacularly because he was in the right place at the right time. The review concludes by quoting Isaacson: “Steve Jobs was able to infuse into Apple’s DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make Apple likely to be, even decades from now, the world’s most successful company at the intersection of artistry and high technology”. The Financial Times follows this quote by saying “At this point, it feels as though the famous Steve Jobs reality distortion field may have won the day - but one could be forgiven for hoping that Isaacson is actually right”.

I think one of the reasons that the Financial Times book review, and that of many other newspapers, has gone so far off course is that they have focused on the eccentric viciousness of Steve Jobs, they have allowed their personal distaste to colour their analysis. Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson: looking back there are things I am not proud of and should have handled differently, but I have no skeletons in the closet. In his youth his ex-girlfriend called him an “enlightened being who was cruel”, he cheated a friend out of some money, he cheated a telephone company out of more, it's certainly way short of murder. Looking for the “bad”, we can say that the most obvious thing about Steve Jobs is that he was a sort of good version of Anders Behring Breivik, that is an aggressive idealistic anarchist on a crusade to rebuild the world who imagined himself as a powerless but brilliantly intelligent little guy fighting against an all powerful but completely mindless elite. Steve Jobs drove a car without licence plates and parked in disabled bays, anarchists don't feel obliged to abide by the rules of civilized society because they think society isn't really civilized, it's actually corrupt. Breaking the rules helps the anarchist maintain his sense of uniqueness, breaking the rules also shakes the bourgeoisie out of its woolly sleep and steals the hearts and minds of their bourgeois children. So popular revolutionaries run circles around the elite, they wow the world by doing everything differently, they are not just a breath of fresh air, they are a veritable tornado of charisma. Kids around the world hang their picture on the wall and think why can't my father be like that? But what was the enigmatic Steve Jobs actually like? Over the course of this article we will pin Steve Jobs down, we will reveal him to be a sort of 21st Century philosophical version of the utilitarian revolutionary Che Guevara. The Financial Times dismisses him as a lunatic, but such a person is always mad when he is young, and unlike the aging rock stars who still wear leather jackets and snort cocaine, he improved dramatically with age.

What I am saying is that in order to find the “good” in Steve Jobs, one has to search for the good by suspending personal belief and seeing life through his eyes, one must not allow oneself to be blinded by the conflict between his unusual message and one's own ego. Geniuses often appear mad and often appear vicious. Consider Margaret Thatcher, for example, as a mini-genius. She wasn’t as vicious as Jobs, but she was hated by a lot people at the time, her own party turned against her, she resigned in disgrace, and her reputation only grew as the world evolved and we understood what was she was trying to do in hindsight. This is the famous idea that true genius can’t be understood by contemporary historians, but only by future generations. In fact, the whole idea of a popular genius is philosophically absurd, the modern idea of a universally appealing messiah is a myth. Jesus was crucified, Socrates was forced to drink hemlock. You see real genius is not a simple specialist skill, it is a philosophical viewpoint that is more advanced that the rest of society, a viewpoint which in its day is always reviled because it rejects the prevailing zeitgeist, a viewpoint which is ahead of its time and which is only appreciated by future generations.

We can understand this more clearly by thinking about something Schopenhauer said: “Talent hits the target everyone can see, genius hits the target others can’t see”. So a genius is someone who can see something others can’t see. He goes against the grain, he thinks out of the box, he is an iconoclast. He is always reviled because he thinks differently to everyone else. Think about Isaacson’s statement: “Steve Jobs was able to infuse into Apple’s DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make Apple likely to be, even decades from now, the world’s most successful company at the intersection of artistry and high technology”. The targets no one else could see are both products at the intersection of artistry and high technology, and the DNA for producing them. Until very recently competitors sold their PCs in beige boxes differentiated by how fast their CPU runs, it took them an incredibly long time to see the “products at the intersection of artistry and high technology” target. If you walk in a shop selling computers today you will see how everyone is now trying to build beautiful looking computers with gorgeous user friendly interfaces, high tech is no longer a geeky industry, it’s as much about design as it is computational power. To an extent, the importance of design has become yesterday news, most people realise that the tech industry has become more like the car industry as it has matured, i.e. revolving around sleek aluminium Audi TTs instead of boxy steel Ford Model Ts. Now the debate has moved onto the far more mysterious target Steve Jobs saw, namely the idea of a new corporate DNA.

So the questions people ask today are: What is the DNA Steve Jobs was aiming at? How can we describe his vision of Apple’s ideal business culture and creative process? How did his vision differ from standard business practices? Competitors realise this DNA must exist because despite now understanding the general goal of producing products at the intersection of art and technology, they can't figure out how to actually produce them. Over and over again Apple keep beating them, it can't just be luck, Apple must be doing something different. Think about Plato's Theory Of Forms, think about Jesus and the Jews. The Jews said salvation comes by upholding moral laws, but Jesus said salvation comes by going behind the surface and trying to think about spiritual virtues such as love. In other words, a man does not become good by copying the actions of good people, he becomes good by thinking about what makes good people behave the way they do. Following rules and regulations is a good thing, but it does not in of itself make a man good, indeed it can make him very slavish, what makes a man good is a sort of grasping of the goodness which the rules and regulations are supposed to approximate. This is messages all messiahs teach, the key to the kingdom of heaven that releases the chains holding the prisoners in front of the cave wall.

Plato's Timeaus says “Whenever the craftsman looks at what is always changeless and, using a thing of that kind as his model, reproduces its form and character, then, of necessity, all that he so completes is beautiful. But were he to look at a thing that has come to be and use as his model something that has been begotten, his work will lack beauty.” So understanding not only Steve Jobs, but indeed anything at all of beauty, begins with the contemplation of that Platonic paragraph. I can try to put it into words as follows: Imagine a geek trying to copy a Vincent Van Gogh painting. Unless he can, so to speak, somehow grasp hold of soul of Vincent Van Gogh's work, all he can ever do is slavishly copy it, he can never be a real artist. In the same way you can't comprehend Apple's products at the intersection of art and technology in of themselves, you need go behind the surface and grasp both the dream Steve Jobs had in mind when he created them, and the working practices that enabled that dream to manifest.

Alan Deutschman, author of “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs”, has described how Steve Jobs studied the rise and fall of Sony and even collected, as a hobby, early Sony letterhead and marketing materials. What Steve Jobs was doing was getting in touch with the zeitgeist of Japan at its best, going behind the surface and thinking about the idealism of their products and working practices, developing the godlike philosophical vision that can see what others can not see, giving him seemly superhuman skills. Up until perhaps the 1960s Japan was a country without vision, it slavishly copied Western ideas and designs, not just in consumerism but even in philosophy. But at its height Japan had that flash of light that took it to a new level, it rediscovered the ultra-perfectionist ultra-clean zeitgeist of the Ancient Samurai Sword maker, and suddenly Japanese companies started producing better products than their Western competitors. For a while Japan looked like it was going to rule the world, it wasn't just the “world's factory floor”, the minimalist anti-brand shape but not colour philosophy of Muji briefly crossed the heavens like a shooting star and the slogan “build by robots” became ultra-cool.

What went wrong in Japan? Think about Aesop's two famous fables describing the competition between grasshopper and ant type people, or hair and tortoise type people. In Europe the British are innovators and the Germans are perfectionists, so whilst the British pioneered many things such as the Industrial Revolution and Empire building, what the British started the Germans often ended up perfecting. For example, technological revolutions start with exciting entrepreneurial innovation, but eventually they consolidate into a very disciplined economy of scale game that is won by a different sort of man, not a courageous visionary leader of men like King Arthur or Agamemnon, rather a strong warrior like Lancelot or Achilles. The same thing is true even in mathematics, Newton was a beautiful leader, but calculus was perfected by the detail oriented skills of Leibniz. One is a sort of light-bulb thinker good at innovation, one is a laser beam thinker good at exploiting, and the rubbing of the two often creates war. For example, the British led the era of Empire building, and France followed along in second place, but when the Germans finally tuned up to the party they didn't just sail around the world swallowing primitive countries, they starting devouring Eastern Europe like no tomorrow. Compare, for example, the British in India with the Germans in Prague, the Germans (Prussians) made the British look like incompetent hand wavers. The war between the different types is frequently started by failing second rate powers who don't have the courage to wait until something new turns up, and persuade the leaders of the Ancien Régime to launch a bold pre-emptive strike against the upstart, and that's certainly how it worked back in 1914 Europe. Yet sometimes the new powers really are at fault, being more black and white than shades of grey they can get carried away in ignoble ways - the most extreme example in the 1930s being the contrast between the rather enlightened British who treated the Indians with a lot of respect and the ruthless Japanese who treaded the Chinese like cattle to be slaughtered for food. World government types dream of uniting everyone not just to prevent war, but also to promote economic efficiency - yet bad community building is often more dangerous than no community building at all. Globalization has to a certain extent produced that sort of outcome, so some countries today specialise in innovation, and others in manufacturing perfection, but it's a very fractious and inefficient coupling that could all go terribly wrong.

In the same sort of way, pragmatic philosophers explain the rise and fall of Japan compared to the America during the 1960s - 1980s in terms of a technological innovation vs technological perfectionism cycle. After the Second World War America pioneered the era of household goods consumerism, think for example about vacuum cleaners and cars, but over time the Japanese took the consumer products lead away from American in the same sort of way the Germans constantly took the lead from the British in European history. Then, in the 1980s, the Americans forged a new path with the personal computer revolution, and economic power suddenly moved West again. Even this computer revolution progressed in three stages inside the United States, it began with the geeks building high performance computers and spreadsheets in their garage, then it progressed to the economy of scale mass consumerism exemplified by Microsoft Office and DELL, then when the technology was fully mature a new era was born which gave consumers a plethora of style and choice. The era of style ends up in great battle between ugliness and beauty, in the computer industry the transition from Microsoft to Apple, in the car industry the transition from functional cars to works of art like the Audi TT which blow the consumers away.

So when Steve Jobs studied Sony he was, in a sense, studying the DNA of the Japanese Philosopher Kings who dominated consumer products in the 1970s, preparing himself for the day when the computer industry in America would reach the third stage of transcendental perfection that develops after the technology has moved passed the era of geeky innovators and boring consumerism. Some American commentators have described the Apple zeitgeist as Californian on top and Sony down below, less sharp edged and more loving than the Samurai original. But Zen intellectuals have criticised Apple too, for example purists criticise the writing on the back of the iPhone. The user doesn't need writing on back saying “iPhone, 32GB, IMEI number, etc”. The fact it's an iPhone is self evident, and in the unlikely event the user needs to check the RAM size and IMEI number he can check “settings, about”. A properly Zen iPhone would have nothing except the Apple Logo on the back, and the only reason it would have that is because the logo is beautiful. In the Muji era heyday products came with easy to peel off labels, so once the consumer got them home he could strip them off all superfluous colour and noise. Not just cameras, even hand cream or bottles of olive oil were completely de-sentimentalised. The Japanese minimalist design philosophy was a reaction against American Planet Hollywood style crass consumerism, so a bit like Empire Style vs Baroque in 1800s France, and in Europe it was the Germans who clapped most enthusiastically.

Some more august philosophers answer the question “What went wrong with Japan?” differently. Instead of talking about technological paradigm shifts, they talk about why Japan really failed inside of itself rather than in everyone is connected relativistic terms. These philosophers tell a terrible story about how Japan's spiritual vision tragically imploded into a shameless orgy of gridlocked populism and conspicuous consumption, and how ever since that spiritual crisis Sony has been producing ugly geeky and chaotic products. Japan has in fact turned totally upside down, Sony is the very antithesis of Muji, it sells of dozens and dozens of hifi's and all of them look like they have been designed by children and none of them do what you actually want even though they are brimming with features you don't actually want. Sony's best Walkmans had spectacular sound quality, and for many years elitists hungered to buy a Sony version of the iPod, but every single product Sony released horrified both the top and the bottom set. For example, because Sony are without philosophical vision, they can't decide who the product is for, so their latest flagship digital audio player mixes high sound quality for audiophiles with noise cancelling earpieces for geeks and a small flash drive instead of a big hard drive for kids who over compress their music. In Dyson's autobiography he said that in his early days he tried to sell a hybrid bagless vacuum cleaner and carpet washer. Nobody was interested, but when he stripped out the carpet washing feature his invention sold like hot cakes. Dyson says the moral of the story is that you have to keep the product vision “pure” so customers can understand it - eg if you want an audiophile product you drop the graphic equaliser. But Sony's mistake is much worse, they combine a lack of vision, design by committee chaos, and an inability to argue with each other, creating totally dysfunctional products that resemble the self-contradictorily comic puppet shows of the ventriloquist Eurycles. For example, the audiophile electronics makes the device too expensive for normal people, and the small storage makes the device useless to audiophiles, so the combination is useless to everyone. So this philosophical blindness doesn't just make Sony appalling entrepreneurs, its touches everything they do and makes all their products not only ugly but also useless.

Consumer experts say there are three main markets for household consumer good such as clothes irons in the world today. The Americans like cheap traditional-industrial looking irons, the Japanese like geeky irons with LCD temperate readouts and Hello Kitty colours, and the Europeans have the most stylish and sophisticated taste toward which the other markets gradually converge. The point is it didn't used to be like that, back in the 1970s Japan was the epicentre of style, and it was the Japanese who felt sorry for a Western world consumed by crime and filth and disco music. Think about the Japanese Nuclear disaster. The Japanese Samurai were masters of the disciplined power structures who delegated power effectively and like good fighting men were capable of excellent technical decisions even if they were tortoises compared to the Chinese hare when it came to long term philosophical vision. But the modern Japanese nuclear scientists turned a blind eye to the danger of tsunamis and underplayed the scale of disaster etc - because the trust in experts so integral to their traditional cultural cohesion is gone, creating a culture in which experts have to try and survive by preventing transparency because every scientific debate turns into a cat fight. In the United States, by contrast, when people get together in the pub they tend to talk more about ethics than science, so the nuclear experts have more space to get on with their own jobs without everyone interfering. So in Japan the failure comes from a lot of unscientific kids trying to be scientists, and in America the failure comes comes from a lot of unethical kids trying to be Jesus, the first is a Sony freezing in the snow, the second a Nokia burning at the stake.

The point I am making in all these Japanese examples is that DNA is everything, understanding why Sony rose and fell revolves around understanding Sony's DNA, how it rose and ruled the world, then blew up and fell into a swamp. In the same way, understand that until competitors can develop a DNA as brilliant and virile as that of Steve Jobs, all they can ever do is sell ugly looking products that slavishly copy Apple's begotten creations. Until they develop that DNA the most beautiful products in the world will be the ones that most slavishly copy Apple's designs, and the more Apple press them with look and feel copyright protection lawsuits to develop a vision of their own, the more ugly their products will get. That's why Steve Jobs pushed so hard for thermonuclear patent war on imitators such as Google, if it ever succeeds the tech industry will potentially be eviscerated because it just a herd of sheep that follow each other around doing ugly stupid things, once building boring beige boxes, now geeky multicoloured boxes.

However, the real challenge, of course, is in software not the hardware. For example, even Sony can build a good looking TV, but designing a great on screen interface and remote control leaves them crawling around in the dust. You can think about the GUI problem by going onto your iPad and searching for something on Google and then scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking the “classic mode” button. If you have any talent for GUI appreciation at all, you will instantly see that Google's latest GUI is vastly worse than their last, and in fact right across their product range, every step forward Google take is a step backward (you can find screenshots in this article). Now take a look at smartphones. The most original design in the marketplace after Apple is Microsoft, but their Windows Phone 7 GUI looks as if it was designed by the marketing team at Wall-Mart. Think about the difference between Wall-Mart and Harrods in London or Dean & DeLuca in New York. How can you describe the Wall-Mart aesthetic or way of life? Steve Jobs loved to divide the world into “idealists” and “bozos”, when ordinary people read the Walter Isaacson biography they let the worlds drift briefly through the surface of their minds, but slow down and think about what is really being said. Imagine yourself as a Socrates digging deep down into the mind of Steve Jobs trying figure out exactly what Steve Jobs really meant by a “bozo”. Is it, for example, one idea? For example, you could say that the shop floor designers at Harrods and Dean & DeLuca are artists who try to design for the elite whereas the shop floor designers at Wall-Mart only care about kids - so you could define a bozo as a person who thinks he is a god even though the only people who applaud his creations are kids and his work revolts real Kings. Or is it many ideas added together? For example you could say it's not just about elitist shop floor designers, it's also about sales staff who are passionate about their work like McDonalds in its heyday when sweat was dripping from every brow instead of bozo employees who roll their eyes every time a customer asks for help and saunter around the shop floor like geriatrics. Or is it a mixture with a one in the middle that can not be articulated directly, but instead has to be broken down in multiple perspectives and then comprehended indirectly?

Think about a Catholic church, in order to turn the flock into idealists Catholic Priests filled their church with ornate elite craftsmanship designed to inspire the flock with the personality of gods. The Wall-Mart marketing manger is like the Catholic bozo who replaces the gilt edged statue of Christ the fisherman raising the dead with a fibreglass model of Santa-Clause giving out presents. Think about a Puritan church, in order to turn the flock into idealists the Puritan Preachers cut the heads off the gargoyles bringing everyone back down to earth making them more manly. The Wall-Mart marketing manger is like the Puritan bozo who replaces the beautifully austere wooden church with soulless concrete and wall to wall carpets. Think about an Orthodox Church, instead of the Catholic love that follows great men or the Puritan love that charges into battle for the community, the Orthodox Priests emphasised a sort of competitive untermensch / übermensch style idealism. The Wall-Mart marketing manger is like the Orthodox bozo who covers the hilt of the Samurai Sword with jewels because he no longer cares about perfect performance, his idealism has twisted upside down and solidified so that all he cares about is appearing richer than everyone else. In that decrepit condition he most of all fails the famous stranger test Homer described in the Odyssey and Tolstoy described in so many of his stories, namely he can not tell the difference between a guru dressed in rags and rouge dressed in purple. So what is an idealist? A philosopher might say he is the what none of the bad things listed here have in common. But what is that? The poetic answer is, of course, love.

So unlike anything any Christian calls worthy, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is full of downmarket sugar, populist salt and sloppy oil. Microsoft call it a downmarket product aimed not at “trend setters / opinion formers” but at ordinary people in search of simplicity, but in truth it's very much a nerds and losers platform, and like all really downmarket bohemian products it leaves everyone tearing their hair out because when children design products the end result is not just ugliness, it's also irrationality. Another example is the hopelessly downmarket bohemian Metro interface in the recently released Windows 8 Beta, Microsoft's new motto seems to be “designed by geeks for simpletons”. This ugliness and dysfunctionality has left Microsoft with abysmal sales, and the only phone company which has committed itself to their platform, namely Nokia, is consequently on the edge of extinction despite having enclosed the operating system in critically acclaimed hardware. Samsung, on the other hand, more than any other company in the world, have slavishly and shamelessly copied Apple's GUI designs - and that's precisely why they sell more upmarket smartphones that any other Apple competitor in the world, yet every single change that Samsung have made to Apple's GUI is uglier that the original (Samsung have copied Apple's hardware designs so completely it's often hard to tell the products apart, but remember it's not really about hardware it's about software)  (you can find a detailed analysis with GUI screenshots of the Apple, Samsung Android and Samsung Microsoft phone in this article). One day Samsung might develop the sort of vision Japan developed at it's peak, but that's a very hard thing to do which basically requires a lot of philosophical wisdom. That is why Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson that his legacy is not the products he created, it's Apple itself, the embodiment of a new 21st Century corporate DNA.

Continuing our search of Steve Job's DNA, let's talk about some of the problems of laisser-faire capitalism.

Loss of elite leadership. Apple is famous for walled gardens, the PC is famous for open standards and competition. You would have thought we would all prefer an open system, but eventually it becomes chaotic. For example, Apple was able to build such an amazing iPhone because it owned both the software and hardware. This is another example of the famous Railway Privatization Problem in the UK which was designed to introduce competition but ended in chaos. Many people associate closed systems with higher prices, but economies of scale eventually work to the advantage of a more monopolized market. Apple is gradually developing economies of scale no competitor can touch, what we are increasingly seeing today is a world in which Apple and its competitors sell their products at about the same price, but because Apple has economy of scale advantages it can offer a much higher quality product than its competitors. The biggest danger of a monopolized market is excessive prices, market prices settle at what consumers are willing to pay, whereas in a competitive market prices are supposed to converge on what it costs to produce. Lenin argued that free markets degenerate into monopolies earning excessive profits, but he failed miserably at running state owned enterprises efficiently. Chinese State Capitalists are doing a much better job because they don't pander to lazy shop floor workers or greedy CEOs.

Loss of communal passion. A key element of the Apple concept is the App Store which protects consumers from bad software. One of the problems with commercial software is that it tends to become, to some extent, mal ware. Look at Norton Anti Virus - my personal favourite example of a god awful product driven by commercial pressures. Norton pay lap top manufactures to include it on the machine. They make it as hard as they can to uninstall. They fill it with lots of junk features you don't actually need, but because you are not an expert, you can be tricked into thinking you do need. They love messages that pop up so you retain brand awareness. They report harmless things as malicious to trick you into thinking they are doing a great job. Office Ribbon is another example of the problem of commercial pressures. Disappointed that users were not bothering to upgrade Microsoft set up to create something totally different. The change was not driven by virtue, but by commercial greed. The idea of capitalism is that it is efficient because the end user buys what maximizes his personal contentment. The complaint against capitalism is that the limited expertise and irrationality of consumers, combined with the selfish motives of producers, creates anomalies which destroy the utility maximizing process. Instead you end up with products that damage personal contentment, and like the restaurant trade before the invention of government health and safety inspectors, capitalism eventually destroys itself because everyone is gets so fed up with food poisoning they stop eating out.

Loss of technical intelligence. Steve Jobs said that working with Wozniak taught him that the difference between a real expert and everyone else is, as far as that subject is concerned, like the difference between “a god and a shit head”. Contrast the “herd society” with the “hive society”. In a herd everyone is trying to contribute to everything, in a hive society people focus on their own area of expertise. The individual in a hive has complete creative power over his own domain, but no creative power over anything outside his domain. “Mind your business” is the operating philosophy of the hive, “I have a right to be heard” is the operating philosophy of the herd. Steve Jobs talked about “corporate bozos with no clue about product”. Inside herd based societies the whiz kids end up at the very bottom because they are not people’s people, their non-emotive unwavering you’re wrong style of debate upsets the herd. Instead the people who rise to the top are smooth talking golf playing charismatic types with a background in sales and marketing, people like John Sculley and Steve Ballmer. Deep down Steve Jobs said they are clueless about products, their skill is simply political. These individuals can run the show successfully for a while, but when a storm hits they are helpless because they are not real captains, but rather just experts at looking like captains - the corporate equivalent of modern democratic politicians. The are destroyed by ego, when they forget that they are impostors and turn away from the advice of the whiz kids in the lower ranks, they are destroyed by the incompetence of their own decision making. Their decision making is bohemian- it is not based on reason but rather bold inspired guesses. Their greatest weakness is cross examined expert debate, although they can hoodwink a crowd of ordinary people, in the presence of experts they are helpless. That is why Steve Jobs said if you strip out all the political correctness and the egalitarianism from the corporate zeitgeist, if you throw everything since the 1960s away and go back to the good old days of when warriors worshiped truth and justice instead of giving in to their wife's nagging for the sake of a peaceful life or erotic desire, then the emperors without clothes will be exposed, and the sick kool-aid drinking herd will turn into a healthy wise hive.

Steve Jobs was famous for idealism / perfectionism, let’s try and define that three different ways.

Last time I was in Italy I spend a few days in the town of Bellagio. It’s a beautiful old town on the edge of a lake, and one of many things that left me shell-shocked was the beauty of the shop window displays. I was walking down old medieval alleyway when I came across a shoe shop. The shopkeeper had arranged shoes in colour coordinated circles, and I was looking at them thinking how quaint they looked when I realized it was a Nike shop. Somehow this man had made his shop selling Nike shoes into something that looked like it was in keeping with an 18th Century Italian village! It struck me that this guy could increase sales if he put a colourful Nike sign in the window that caught shoppers eyes, yet neither he nor anyone else broke the faith. I though about what would happen if the shopkeeper lost his courage and started putting up modern signs in order to retire younger. He would make lots of money but over time if others followed him eventually the whole town would degenerate and end up looking as tacky as everywhere else. Then Bellagio would loose it’s beauty and sales for everyone would fall, and that act of patricide, of overturning traditions for the sake of short term gain would have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Steve Jobs said I don’t do market research, I try to imagine a great noble King and build for him. Steve Jobs said if am designing a wardrobe I don't skimp with plywood at the back, I think about myself as a Mozart, I ignore the bums on the board of directors begging me to build some crap for their wives, I do it the way it's supposed to be. Look at Microsoft, do you think they built Vista / Windows 8 for a King? No, Microsoft is the marketing manager who puts loud ugly signs in the windows even though it destroys the town. Think about the transition from what we called at the time “childlike Myspace” to “grownup Facebook”- populism brings short term gains but in the long term time frame it often ends up revolting customers and destroying companies. Steve Jobs pointed out that in America populism is a real problem, it's why the best cars and vacuum cleaners and cameras and clothes tend to come from Europe or Japan, it's why the US so often looses its lead as industries mature and revolve less around pure technology and more around design.

Last time I was in Austria I spent a few days in Saltsburg. It’s another beautiful town, and it was Christmas time and I went to main square which was full of little wooden stands selling Christmas decorations and mulled wine and sausages etc. Everyone was talking to each other or singing carols together. Germany is a country that is passionate about people, it doesn’t have the fussiness of Italy, it’s very down to earth. Steve Jobs said another way to find idealism is to build for your friends - to find a few people who are really passionate about your product and focus on them. If you imagine building something for your buddy you don’t give them something shallow, you give something that will really improve their life. Think about Walmart, the owners of Walmart are some of the richest people in America, they have nothing in common with the people they are selling to, they think of them as bums and all they care about is milking them. They treat their shoppers with contempt, they build the cheapest shop building regulations permit, they make the interior as tacky and addictive as they can complete with loud speakers announcing limited time special offers. They get the accountants in and after running some statistics figure out that if you put the chocolate bars next to the till the godforsaken people will be tempted to scoff some more junk food. Outside Walmart the real estate brokers try and trick people into taking on loans they can’t afford, and ambulance chasing lawyers look for cripples to see if they can make a medical negligence case. Steve Jobs was one of the few people who said it’s all sick, there is no love left in American capitalism, it’s full of wanton self interested capitalist bozos.

The Financial Times dislike Steve Jobs because he wasn’t politically correct, the Wall Street Journal dislike him because he doesn’t let people sell porn in the App Store. Steve Jobs was a warrior who fought against the corruption that tends to develop in anyone who spends too long standing still. You see the egalitarian liberalism of the Financial Times is the precise opposite of point (1) above. It is a patricidal overturning of tradition that started in the 1960s and would horrify a proper Catholic elitist. The wanton liberalism of the Wall Street Journal is the precise opposite of point (2) above. It is a perversion of the passion for community that started in the 1980s and would horrify a proper Puritan. You can be an idealist by trying to be good, or, looking out from on high, by fighting against faithless cowardly Italians and friendless wanton Germans. Think about the Samurai, it was a society which emphasized the fight against injustice. Perhaps Steve Jobs was a little bit disturbed, perhaps he was too Samurai for an American. Yet his idea of the expert hive rather than the herd society is something all philosophers, both Westerns such as Socrates and Easterners such as Confucius, have emphasized. Building an expert culture that runs on reason instead of populist political sentiment was the key to Western advancement during the Age Of Enlightenment under men such as Fredrick the Great. Steve Jobs was right to despise democracy, populism is a poison which is destroying our civilization and turning us into muddle headed bohemians full of sloppy opinions about everything but without any real skill. Perhaps the most important lesson that Steve Jobs taught is that excellence is only possible when people given up their interest in politics and dedicate their lives to doing one thing well. One of the great slanders put about by Apple's competitors is that Steve Jobs was just a marketing bozo who didn't really focus on the product. The truth is the precisely the opposite- his strength was turning away from facebook democracy and trying to build something truly good.

Just as the gods favour the virtuous, so Steve Jobs claimed that whilst immoral capitalist “hell” often outsells heaven in the short term, idealistic perfectionist heaven always wins in the end. In this Steve Jobs offers real hope for mankind, he says the good little guy always triumphs in the end if he keeps true to idealism. If there is any single episode that really sums up this hope for the world, it's the moving story of Steve Jobs and his loyal friend and lieutenant John Lasseter going slowly bankrupt making computer animations for love not money at Pixar. Against all the odds they came back from the lonely abyss, that love turned into some of the most successful and beautiful animations in history, that love triumphed over soulless populist capitalist incumbents such as Disney, that love was finally recognised, embraced and applauded by mankind. Walter Isaacson describes a conversation between Jobs and Rupert Murdoch in which Jobs said “It’s not about left or right anymore, it’s about constructive or destructive - and you are destructive”. Murdoch dismissed him as a socialist, but that completely misses the point. Steve Jobs horrified cowardly socialists with his idealistic social conservatism as much as he horrified wanton capitalists with his idealistic communalism. In fact if you think about it very carefully you will see that the left right political dichotomy has only opened up because society is in a state of such heinous moral decline. In a healthy society the left and right have a happy marriage and political parties make no sense at all.

We have talked about idealism, let’s go on to entrepreneurship. Steve Jobs described himself as someone at the intersection of art and technology, we Ancient Greek philosophers call him a weaver in the style of Odysseus.

The reason why big IT projects so often fail it that this weaving skill is very rare, perhaps I can describe it as neither sales-marketing nor engineering, but something that can go back and forth and understand the mind of both sides. For example, think about the chaos that bedevilled the UK's National Health Service IT project. The engineer relies on the doctor's vision, but when he delivers his code after months of work, the doctor suddenly realizes that it's not quite what he needs etc, so you end up with endless revisions and project creep. What you need is an engineer who has studied the needs of the doctor and is great at debating with both sides, someone who can say to the doctors "guys, you really don't need that" and someone who can say to the engineers "guys, stop being wimps you can find a way to this". One of the reasons the big IT consultancies are so bad at delivering that service is that they fill up with smooth Italian salesmen who are much better at seducing doctors with political vision than technically minded German engineers who prefer intimate conversations with fellow experts, yet the salesmen are at heart fundamentally team players who live for consensus and who end up just giving the client what he already thinks he wants, whereas the really entrepreneurial type is not a team player but on the contrary someone whose whole raison d'être is to challenge the consensus and fight against wooden headedness. So sales-marketing is like the watery architect who translates a particular tradition into a design; the engineer is like the down to earth builder who enjoys getting his hands dirty making things; and the entrepreneur is the intermediate who understands both traditions and building techniques, and devotes his life to thinking about what everyone is doing wrong, berating them when he is young, educating them when he is old and wise.

Like Odysseus, entrepreneurs tend to go on painful journeys to self discovery, they are too free flowing for engineering and too cutting for marketing, which is why very entrepreneurial organizations are often famously imagined as having a touch of the pirate ship about them. Because they live apart from everyone else and spend their lives thinking about what is wrong with the world instead of what is right with the world, they are warriors who fight against the status quo, yet they differ from the patricidal liberal arts anarchist by their technical expertise and their contempt for populism. The entrepreneur’s great challenge is mania. For example, Odysseus spent years trying to learn to stop his crew from rioting every time he fell asleep, ie learning the supreme self control he so expertly demonstrated at the end of the Odyssey in his dealings with the suitors. Certain professions require the entrepreneur skill, both Plato and the Confucians talked about merchants (finance) and soldiers. GUI is another of these professions, it leaves both the sales team and the technology team floundering. However, the truth is that even Steve Jobs, for all his great entrepreneurial skill, didn't really perfect GUI design - and knowing this deep down he feared getting too involved in complex software projects, preferring to focus his attention on fonts and colours and things on the surface like that, and that is one of the reasons Apple have a tendency to over simplify functionality and annoy power users.

The entrepreneur type in fact splits into fiery scientists and airy psychologists who are good at manipulating people, and as we see in a moment Steve Jobs was very much the latter. Let’s think about the difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Bill Gates was also a bit of a rebel in his youth, he liked to pretend that he was asleep in mathematics lectures at Harvard, and then wake up to correct his lecturer’s mistakes. Bill Gates had amazing technical skills, and Microsoft’s programming was far more accomplished than Apple’s programming. In Isaacson’s book Bill Gates recalls that he had more people writing code for Apple than Apple had writing code for themselves. He destroyed Apple’s world processor, he destroyed Lotus, the world’s largest software company at that time, with his first version of Excel, and within a few years he had released an operating system that was far more technically advanced than Apples. The iPad’s browser was written by just two programmers, that’s nothing to be proud of, it suggests an almost hobbyist approach to computer engineering. Yet Steve Jobs has built Apple into a company worth almost twice as much as Microsoft (at time of writing), and Microsoft’s technical skills have failed to produce good products. So Steve Jobs has another kind of skill, and it’s a skill so powerful that it has ultimately triumphed not only over Bill Gate’s technical skills, but also over his once seemingly adamantine monopoly.

We could call Steve Job’s skill something like philosophy, or psychology, or as Socrates would say “insight into human nature”. Bill Gates was the talented computer programmer who could hit his competitors targets more successfully that his competitors, but Steve Jobs was the genius who could see philosophical targets Bill Gates couldn’t see. No-one is going to read a book about Bill Gates to learn about the philosophy of technology or economics or society. Bill Gates is just a smart ordinary guy, Steve Jobs was in a different league, the sort of league that doesn’t just build good products, it sets an example that changes the entire world. The anti-capitalist protestors out on the streets today have rejected their fathers and are looking for a saviour, Steve Jobs is as close as this corrupt dying world has come to a new messiah. When the Financial times said there nothing other American businessmen can learn from Steve Jobs, it wasn't just slightly wrong, it was cosmologically wrong.

Steve Jobs was adopted, his biological mother was studying for her graduate degree when he born, and she very much wanted him to go into a well educated family. But as fate turns out he ended up being adopted by a humble family, and that was surely one of the secrets of Steve Jobs’ personality. He was an exceptionally bright child, but he was not brought up by an intellectual family, nor sent to a school that could tax his mind. So instead of turning his mind to technical skills, as Bill Gates did, he withdrew and turned his mind to the contemplation of human nature.

There is a famous biography of Paul Gauguin called “The Nobel Savage” which describes how Paul Gauguin learned to turn himself into a powerful magnetic personality and see what others can’t see by becoming an eccentric. Steve Jobs, like Gauguin, became an eccentric, and like Gauguin he took an interest in Eastern philosophy even at an early age. Just as Gauguin revolutionized painting and took his inspiration from Japanese Prints, Jobs revolutionized technology and took his inspiration from Japanese electronics (eg Steve Jobs famously studied the perfectionism, miniaturization, aesthetics and cultural values captured by the Sony Walkman).

I remember reading a story in Dr Michael Newton's Book “Journey Of Souls”. Newton was a psychiatrist who specialised in deep trance hypnosis, and one day he stumbled onto a hypnotic phenomena he named “Life Between Life Regression”. Whilst treating a patient by desensitizing his trauma under regression, he suddenly found his patient recalling what he believed to be a past life. The patient then recalled his death in this previous life, and then recalled himself shooting up through space and entering into a spiritual world, much like the famous near death experience some intensive care patients have described. Newton found that under deep hypnosis many of his patients could recall what they described as “the spiritual world one inhabits between human lifetimes”. One of his patients recalled a lifetime as a rich and tyrannical business man during the Great Depression. In the spiritual world he found himself standing in front of a panel of judges with a guide at his side. The judges asked him what he though the best thing that had he ever done in the earthly life he had just lived was. The man started talking about how he had run a successful business that employed a lot of people at a tough time. Then the judges stared at him, it was as if they could read his aura, and he felt his whole life being stripped bare by their eyes. They said do you remember helping that poor lonely woman at the buss stop? The man burst into floods of tears as he recalled the moment he put his arms around a destitute distraught women at a buss stop, it was the only time he had ever shown true love in his entire life, his business had always been about him, he had completely failed.

In Isaacson's biography Scully describes how Steve Jobs' piercing eyes could dig into one's soul, how Jobs could see straight through one's facade and penetrate the deepest recesses of one's humanity. Scully called it a painful humiliating invasion of privacy, it rendered one defenceless, it exposed all the soft weaknesses and hidden horrors of one's nature. Scully's story reminds me of Dr Newton's story about the terrifying panel of judges who looked into the tyrant's soul like merciless gods of karma. In fact Steve Jobs wasn't in the same league as Socrates or Confucius because he sort of felt his way around the psychology in a fuzzy fallible intuitive way rather than also being able to grasp it as perfect matrix he could perform algebra on, yet what he had was enough to make him a genius who transformed the world. Most people's psychological makeup is instinctive and unchanging, but you can see that Steve Jobs was using his conscious mind because he worked with energies that were completely alien to his own personality. For example he took the psychological essence of Sony at it's best and integrated it into Apple even though he himself was far more anarchistic than the Japanese personality. This ability to read people, to be anything, to change personality in accordance to the environmental challenge, made him extremely enigmatic and multifaceted. If he hadn't been a entrepreneur philosopher he might have been an actor or a therapist.

Steve Jobs had another use for his piercing eyes. Think about the politicians running Europe. They are constantly flapping around, their incompetence stems from their inability to let go of themselves and focus on the problem in front of them. Isaacson's biography describes Steve Jobs meeting Obama. Steve Jobs said “Obama kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done, it infuriates me”. Steve Jobs said that if you can focus laser like on what needs to be done you can move mountains. Steve Jobs pinned people down, he didn't let them flap around, he fixed his eyes on them and boomed words to effect of: “this and only this needs to done, don't give me any excuses, don't ask me for any alternatives, trust me I know you can do it, so do it right now”. Over and over again his piercing eyes and powerful words turned muddle headed employees into gods who went on to triumph against seemingly insurmountable odds. Politicians fail because their heads are stuffed full of things which they are constantly trying to juggle, they can't focus on the target and dedicate themselves to it, they are always looking for magical bullets, their whole life is dedicated to making excuses and trying to do things on the cheap. So Steve Jobs taught people to let go of their baggage and focus on the one thing that actually needs to be done. He called called it switching off dogma, ideology and emotional noise, it's the Zen Buddhist idea of perfect laser like focus and the dehumanized machine like Japanese Samurai is the ultimate example of it. As it happens, Steve Jobs wasn't mentally disciplined himself, but he understood the psychology well enough to draw it out of others, and well enough to get by on his own as long as he was doing something he enjoyed. Remember “genius hits the target others can’t see”, Steve Jobs was a hunter of ideas man not a producer.

People like Paul Gauguin and Steve Jobs are not straight line thinkers, they think in terms of opposites and harmonies. That's why Steve Jobs did strange things like study Sony's letterhead to understand the essence of their psychology. In the film “Hero” the Chinese warrior tells the emperor he defeated the assassin by studying his calligraphy, learning the essence of his swordplay. It sounds absurd to straight line thinkers, but it makes sense to the more philosophical Chinese who famously think in terms of psychological dualities. There are three different basic modes of philosophy, and Steve Jobs is what we call a person who looks for “how the many are one”, whereas Paul Gauguin is a person who looks for “how the one becomes many”. To see this, consider the psychodynamic relationships in the following two examples:

Steve Jobs : How the many are one… rest…

“I want you to think about something I call joining the dots... Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.”

Paul Gauguin : How the one becomes many… change…

“With a harmonious gesture the man raises a heavy axe in his two hands. It leaves above his head an impression in the silvery sky, and below a rosy incision in the dead tree, where for an inflammatory moment the ardour stored up day to day throughout the centuries will come to life again. On the purple soil long serpentine leaves of metallic yellow make me thing of a mysterious writing on the ancient orient. They distinctly form the sacred world of Oceanic origin, ATUA, God, the Taata or Takata or Tathagata, who rules throughout the Indies. And there came to mind like a mystic council, in harmony with my beautiful solitude and my beautiful poverty the words of the sage..”

The philosophical focus on the one gave Apple enormous vision, yet it also has its dangers, and in a way the death of Steve Jobs came at the right time. If the iPad is really to become a PC replacement instead of a bourgeoisie toy for browsing on the couch, it will need more design compromises or it will end up like MacWrite in back in 1984, which was out gunned by Microsoft’s more functionally complete product. Apple need to think about the many as well as the one, and to find the harmony between them. Take a simple example: what windows users call a file manager, what Apple users call a finder. The iPad's inability to browse external file systems and share files between applications is unsustainable, and the idea of replacing this functionality with the cloud is a hopeless fudge. Yet that doesn't mean we need the same kind of file manager as we have on desktop computers, we don't need to browse operating system or application folders, we don't need to run executables or edit registry files, all we are interested in is what Windows users call “My Documents”. Steve Jobs was bad at making compromises, and his departure gives Apple a chance to find a better sense of harmony. The truth is Apple doesn't have the depth of a company like Microsoft, it doesn't have nearly the same technical programming skills, and it needs to become a much deeper organization if the iPad is going to become functionally complete. That kind of technical detail also bored Steve Jobs, but it's an essential part of being the worlds largest technology company.

If Apple fail to improve their game, if they don't take their software upmarket in the same way they have taken their hardware upmarket, in other worlds if they fail to focus more on power users and keep pursuing an overly populist simplistic consumerist software strategy, the company will fail the way Microsoft and countless other American consumer electronics companies have failed. I am a long term Apple shareholder, and one of the first signs of weakness I am looking for is frustration in China. Think about the difference between Shanghai and Washington, the first city has the world's best educated masses, the second city has some of the worst educated people in the developed world. As a result Apple will reach the bohemian nemesis in China long before it reaches that point in America. In other words, what a philosophical shareholder like me looks for is signs that Chinese businessmen are saying: “I am bored playing Angry Birds on my iPhone, now I want to do some work but the small screen and lack of a file manager are making it impossible. Samsung's GUI may be a mess, but at at least they can get the job done.” Think about the iPad as well, without a product like Goodreader which adds a file system and the ability to view documents, the iPad is little more than a bourgeoisie toy for browsing the internet on the couch. But this kind of vital functionality should come from Apple, not a Russian software company. To be honest, my long term guess is that Apple is going to fail and twenty years from now the tech industry will belong to Asia, which would be a disaster for the Western world because the East is overtaking the West in so many other things we need Apple to rule technology for the sake of world harmony, and one of the goals of my Apple articles is to reach out to Tim Cook and help the world stay in balance.

Philosophers like Socrates had extremely disciplined structured minds and were able to justify their position, but due to his upbringing Steve Jobs never developed mental discipline. Without the ability to justify himself in argument, he learned to trust his own instincts, and he developed enormous self confidence. In a sense his inability to examine himself was both his strength and his weakness.

Isaacson’s book describes the development of the Apple Stores. Gateway wasted a lot of money building physical stores, and Dell’s online only model was widely regarded as superior. But Steve Jobs decided Apple needed a physical store and told his board of directors. They argued against him, but he wouldn’t back down. He said our stores will be better than Gateways because will put them in the centre of town and make them huge and beautiful. They were horrified, but Steve Jobs insisted. He built an experimental store on the Apple campus and spent months tweaking the design. He even patented two new ideas for building glass staircases that he personally invented whilst working on the design. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle and one of the board members, eventually refused to come and visit him anymore because every time he turned up Steve insisted on taking him on another tour of his shop to show him what they had achieved. On the eve of the opening one of the people working with him said I think we have done the wrong thing, instead of organizing the shop around products, we should organize the shops around activities. Steve Jobs clicked and immediately delayed the entire project for a complete redesign. When the stores opened Business Week wrote an article: “Sorry Steve, Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work”. Yet they did work, and spectacularly so. The Apple Store on fifth avenue is the highest earning store in New York, and it contributes to brand value. Today technology shops across the world have picked up Apple’s ideas, and minimalist airy interiors with white walls are now commonplace. This is just one of the many examples of how over and over again Steve Jobs’ hunches came in right.

Yet Steve Jobs failed on occasion too, especially in his earlier years. There is the terrible story about the absurdly expensive production line at NeXT, although that experience proved beneficial by teaching him the advantages of outsourcing. There is his refusal to take the advice of his doctors and put his faith in New Age diets instead. There is also Jonathon Ive’s cutting story about how his inhumane challenging manner sometimes proved counterproductive. Perhaps Steve Jobs could have leaned a thing or two about creating an idealistic non-political culture if he had studied NASA instead of anarchism. Once one has created a hive of expert bees instead of a the political sheep herd full of bozos schmoozing, viciousness can give way to politeness.

But most seriously, Steve Jobs, by his refusal to cross examine himself and test his philosophy, never found the peace he surly spent a lifetime searching for. I think if Steve Jobs had been an Ancient Greek he would have worshiped Aries the god of war. Ordinary followers of Ares can come across as withdrawn and sensitive, their clinginess comes from their sense of separation. But as the chi starts to flow this type tends to become a manic warrior whose psychology flows like quick silver, if you love x, he turns himself into y, one minute he a lonely old shepherd playing the flute, the next a wild centaur that scares the hell out of everyone. What condemns this type is the inability to leave the surface flux behind and start engaging in disciplined debate in the sort of friendly way that is unafraid of taking tumbles. Some kind of deep pain, or fear of pain, stops this type from really letting go of themselves and falling in love with god. I think the biggest brain in the world can not set a man free until he develops the skill to put his wildness and his defensiveness aside and wrestle his fellows without caring whether or not he wins or looses, but rather just for the sake of truth. Steve Jobs once said he would swap all his technology for an afternoon with Socrates. To be honest I don't think even the divine Socrates could cure people in an afternoon, and it's not clear to me that Steve Jobs could ever have been cured by Socrates because without the ability to be refuted in rational debate Socrates couldn't have cleaned his soul with stinging refutations. Nevertheless, Steve Jobs was both a great man and a powerful man and a lesson to us all - make no mistake about that.

P.S. I hope Apple live up to his legacy- and as shareholder what I want to see on my iPad is a file manger and a powerful high quality photo editing app. Show me these things, Mr Cook, and I will believe you can take the step Steve Jobs surely died to put in your hands, fail and I am selling my shares and sending my gold pieces to Germany or Singapore. I think Google and Microsoft are the walking dead, in fact I think the whole fate of the United States revolves around Apple. Will it grow up to rule the world, or will we look back in twenty years and say it started in the 60s with peace and love, but it ended in the early 21sh Century with those ghastly out of control social networkers. Oh god, why didn't we learn from the wild Steve Jobs, what fools we were, it wasn't about that geeky task bar with the smiling face, stamp and guitar - it was about elitism and perfectionism.