Jobs and Jobs
From Edison to Jobs, we know how to repeat the U.S. success story.
Posted: Friday, October 7, 2011
Editorial, The Wall Street Journal
Let it also be noted this week that the founder of Apple and prime force behind so many beloved products died when most of the United States was in a national funk. With Steve Jobs being justly celebrated as a quintessential American success story, perhaps this is an apt moment to place his success in the context of a U.S. downturn that is both economic and emotional.
Above all, Steve Jobs was an innovator. Most of business consists of selling as many units as possible of whatever it is they sell. And most of the time what they sell is what some long-ago innovator created, say, the graham cracker (Rev. Sylvester Graham, 1829, New Jersey).
Mr. Jobs did very well at selling what he made. It's now clear, though, that with the time many of his peers spent thinking about market share, Mr. Jobs spent thinking about entirely new markets. Such as the one he created for tablets by introducing his last big product, the iPad.
At the risk of dragging unbeloved Washington into thoughts on the legacy of Steve Jobs, let it also be noted that President Obama spent the better part of his hour-long news conference yesterday moaning about Washington's "failure" to bring his job-creation bill to life.
The iPad was released in April 2010, all of 18 months ago. As of yesterday, Best Buy's website was offering tablets by 20 different makers. Not all these tablets are American-made, but no doubt a scatter chart of the U.S. jobs in marketing, distribution, advertising and so on thrown off by Mr. Jobs' 18-month-old innovation would be impressive.
The iPod music player alone (released November 2001) spawned a galaxy of companies dedicated to finding innovative products attachable to the iPod mothership. Smart kids who spent endless hours 20 years earlier soldering stuff and typing in primitive Basic programs on Commodore 64s grew up to take jobs or even innovate new products themselves on the edge of Apple's galaxy.
Of all the American innovators to whom Steve Jobs has been likened, we think the closest match is Thomas Edison. Edison was a compulsively utilitarian inventor who not only brought forth the phonograph, motion picture camera and light bulb but along with them an explosion of industries. The array of jobs brought forth by these creative bursts is too numerous to imagine.
Most important: No one saw them coming.
At the risk of dragging unbeloved Washington into thoughts on the legacy of Steve Jobs, let it also be noted that President Obama spent the better part of his hour-long news conference yesterday moaning about Washington's "failure" to bring his job-creation bill to life. The bill's details aside, it is hard not to notice the differing results of the Washington model of creating jobs and the Jobs model of creating jobs. Perhaps Washington should think different.
If Steve Jobs anywhere expressed the notion, increasingly popular among American elites, that the U.S. is unable any longer "to compete," we are unaware of it. Mr. Jobs appeared to be too busy thinking about the next big thing for Apple—some of them successes, others flops, all of it in forward motion.
A Steve Jobs doesn't come along every day. But in a nation of more than 300 million people, all privy to the same American traits and traditions of innovation that animated a Californian named Steve Jobs, it should be possible for the U.S. to still make the best use of its best people, and to thrive.
There are whole photo albums out there now of Steve Jobs doing his famous product launches—delicately holding an iPad in his fingers or his face framed by a MacBook Air. There is a common element in all these pictures, even those at the end when Mr. Jobs began to understand he was dying. It is the smiling face of an American optimist.
If I build it, Steve Jobs believed, they will come. They did, and they brought with them one of the more glorious chapters of growth and creativity in the history of the U.S. economy. What we should know by now, from Edison to Jobs, is that it is repeatable.