Jobs is interesting insomuch as he’s a figure who is inextricably associated with industries that, on the technical level, he had no particular familiarity with, and on the management level, he was not particularly successful with. I can’t help but imagine that, for the most part, Jobs is famous for a combination of charisma and luck: he was willing to present himself as a figurehead and invite the suggestion that he had a greater hand in the products he is selling than he really does, but he would be forgotten if it wasn’t that his post-1997 decisions for Apple were largely just as profitable as his 1980–1985 decisions were unprofitable.

In this sense, he’s similar to other larger-than-life figures particularly in the financial industry: a professional gambler in a sense whose personality and convictions about skill borne from luck have led him to become interesting as a character.

After all, many of Jobs’ positive contributions were minor and aesthetic (the beveled corners of early Macs) or were positive only due to a series of clearly unpredictable accidents, while others were unambiguously terrible ideas both at the time and in retrospect (avoiding any expansion ports on the mac ostensibly to save cost, despite the mac still being double the price and half the performance of the Amiga 1000 and comparing even worse price-and-performance-wise to the Atari ST, both of which had plenty). Any attempt to suggest that Jobs was skilled relies upon attributing psychic powers to him.

Of course, this is a wonderful story to tell a tech industry in the midst of a bubble. Elevate a non-technical guy in management for a tech company to a godlike status and claim that all his good choices were the result of skill and all his bad choices were good choices, thereby suggesting that the universe is orderly and that charismatic people have magic powers that allow them to excel in business without trying. It’s no wonder that the Jobs Hagiography is so popular: like the Prosperity Gospel, it promises monetary success and public adulation and moral justification to the masses while justifying itself by claiming that those who succeed were destined to do so while those who fail have only themselves to blame.

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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