Working with many really amazing entrepreneurs I’m fascinated that the business press often seems unwilling to put any filter beyond money on what constitutes a world leading entrepreneur. We have less than ten years to reverse the trend with increasing CO2 emissions, every third second a person dies unnecessary, we are wiping out the last untouched places on this planet, extinction rates are at least 100 to 1000 times higher than natural rates found in the fossil record. In short, there is no lack of challenges worthy an entrepreneur.
My question is not if it is a lack of empathy/heart that these people suffer from, or is it a lack of understanding of how serious the situation is (even if these are interesting questions)? A single individual is never very interesting. In all societies there is a Hitler somewhere, the question is why we at times we want them as leaders and celebrate them. Jobs is obviously not a Hitler, the point I’m trying to make is that he is a reflection of society and not interesting as a person, but as a phenomena.
Blind hunger for more and unwillingness to face the facts around us are major problems. Why are so many people celebrating a man who has probably done more than any other single living person to create a situation where the rich world is turning an ipod-deaf ear to the problem and staring at a 2.5” screen while reality is trying to knock on the door?
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mp3 player and my fascination for technology is not a big secret. I should also clarify that I don’t know Steve Jobs personally, he might be the best person on the planet, or the worst. What I see as a problem is the public persona that is celebrated, a person that is seen as one of the greatest, or even the greatest, entrepreneur of our time by many in media. A person that has given the world a funny little toy, nothing more and nothing less.
I wonder how it feels for those who celebrate Jobs as a word leading entrepreneur when they see the poor of the world, hear about climate change and know that we are in desperate need for new technology and new low carbon lifestyles?
I don’t think people are evil, but we live in a culture that celebrates "infantility" and Homo Ludens as role models. People that don’t ask about the consequences of their actions are not seen as immature, but rather seen as examples of how “far” it is possible to get if you focus and “innovate”. The direction and what you innovate seems to be less important.
Early this year in Davos I posed the question during a dinner conversation I moderated (all attending was from the field of high-tech) how they thought history will judge us and what kind of people future generations would admire in our generation. Will it be people selling small toys that we can listen to music on, or will it be people providing low carbon living for people and helping people out of poverty?
I think that a first step to improve the situation would be to rank the entrepreneurs in relation to how much they have increased long-term welfare on this planet? Getting people like Muhammad Yunus and Dipal C. Barua side by side with Steve Jobs and Lee Raymond would be interesting. Getting a discussion going in MBA educations around the world would also be a good start (I will do a tour later this year in Europe, Middle East and Africa and hope to have a few questions for them to answer, such as: “What legacy would you like to leave behind, micro-financing helping people out of poverty or a little machine that people can listen to music on?”…
Maybe the creation of a “Steve Jobs index” in societies that measures how many of the entrepreneurs that focuses on trivial things and how many that focuses on the great challenges of our time? Then also have a “Steve Jobs media index” that tracks the reporting in media related to the two different kinds of entrepreneurs.
Best of all would be if Steve himself could support and help develop the index… We need surprises and while Gates left his job to help the poor, maybe Steve also could begin to use Apple to save the planet and start an index (he don't even need to stop doing toys, we need them also)...