Many people have tried to reverse engineer Steve Jobs and build companies or government departments like he did, and there are many theories about what made him successful. Here’s another – that he understood how to make us become the person we want to be.
This is no trivial thing. Whether we feel that we are the person we want to be is just about another name for ‘happy’. If we are the person we want to be at work, then we’re happy at work, not to mention doing a good job.
We all want to be respected. We want to feel that we have some degree of leverage over our employer to counterbalance the leverage our employer has over us. We want to feel that we are doing something useful. And these may be key points but what makes us happy is also an endless list which varies from person to person.
Steve Jobs managed to create electronic devices which made many of us feel the way we want to feel. That was a kind of double genius, first understanding how a device could possibly do this without seeing it, and then getting the thing built.
When people say he was unpleasant to work with perhaps they are only saying what it was like to be on the receiving end of having a boss with a clear idea of where he wants to go which you can either fit in with or leave. That’s not pleasant but you can judge him on his results.
How can a phone help people feel better about themselves? I don’t use any Apple products but I can think of many ways – the device gives me what I want, it responds to me, it doesn’t annoy me like a lot of software does, it surprises me, it feels great to have close to me, I feel like I understand it.
Plug that into the discussions going on about how to build business software and systems today. Our relationship with our employer is in many ways more personal than our relationship with our phones, in that it governs whether we can provide for our families, or our status in the world (for people who care about that). If people work with software all day long, the software is in some ways the vehicle with people work with their employers.
So is it possible to build business software which makes us feel much more respected, valued, that we have at least some leverage over our employers, that we are doing something useful? Surely, yes it is.
Not many business software companies think about this sort of thing. But if they did, would they be as successful as Steve Jobs?