Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Learning from Steve Jobs and Al Davis

(a Monday morning recap) 

In recent weeks, we have watched the passing of two men who changed their worlds. They were executives, working in vastly different cultures.  They left behind what some would say are indelible prints. 

The first, Steve Jobs, has been celebrated as the most successful business executive of his generation.  Apple’s market capitalization has made it the most valuable company in the world.  What is truly remarkable is that while only the very, very few revolutionize one area of technology, Jobs revolutionized four–computers, movies, music, and phones.  When Time magazine did a cover story on his life, the article began with this stunning sentence—“Steve Jobs remade the world as completely as any human being ever has.” 

The second executive worked in a very different world, one less measured by brains than brawn.  Al Davis was the CEO of an NFL team. Many in his world would say he is irreplaceable.  Peter King of Sports Illustrated wrote: “Look at the first 42 years of Davis' professional career, and it's clear he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of football history.” 

So how is it men like these, men who were clearly (to use Gladwell’s words) outliers, tipping point leaders, could change the world?  It wasn’t because they were necessarily born with great advantage—at least Jobs wasn’t.  In many respects, he had no business becoming who he became. Jobs was adopted after his single mother gave him up. The parents who adopted Jobs had no formal education beyond high school.  Jobs had one unhappy semester at Reed College. He worked low level jobs, never gaining formal training as a hardware engineer or industrial designer.  When he did start Apple, it began in the humble setting of a parent’s garage.  Interestingly, the date was April Fool’s Day. 

It wasn’t because they were nice.  Neither of these men will be remembered as particularly kind.  They were certainly not warm and fuzzy, considerate or gentle. Jobs could be difficult and demanding, brash and abrasive.  To some, he was a raging perfectionist who quickly dismissed people who did not impress him. He tormented hapless job candidates. As one put it, “He would have made an excellent King of France.”  Davis will not be remembered as the guy you would want to have live next door either. He was complicated and creative, controversial and combative. Here are a few other words that have been used to describe him–mercurial, obsessed, and tough. He preferred to be feared rather than loved. It was nearly impossible for him to release a grudge. Jim Gray, a sports columnist, once described Davis as “the worst enemy you could ever encounter.” 

So what is it? What made them world changers?  Some would say it was their fierce independence.  Fittingly, Al Davis was born on Independence Day. He lived his way—not your way, my way—but his way.  The same could be said of Steve Jobs. Job’s was famous for his commencement address challenge—“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life” And he modeled it by living nobody’s life but his own. 

Second, there was a dogged determination.  Both were men of great resolve—tenacious and resolute. Jobs, over his career, experienced incredible failures, the kind that would have buried most men. At one point, he was forced out of his own company, stripped of all power at Apple, and put out into the technological wilderness. And even after Apple descended to a place where companies like Dell were about to buy it for spare parts, Jobs never gave up. He looked his doubters in the eye and said, “The way we’re going to survive is to innovate our way out of this.” And eventually it became the most valuable technology company in the world. He could have taken his fortune and retired, but he never stopped developing, growing, learning, and pushing himself. Davis too was tenacious, obsessed always with a commitment to excellence.  Even though there were failing seasons, he never gave up the quest for the ring. 

Finally, there was a compelling vision. Jobs liked to quote Wayne Gretzky-“You don’t skate to where the puck is, you skate to where it is going to be.” He always looked out on the edge, beyond the curve, foreseeing the trend lines.  He liked to challenge people to think beyond, to greater things.  Jobs once asked John Sculley, formerly the CEO of Pepsi, this famous question—“Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life, or do want to come with me and change the world?” 

However, as significant as their achievements were, from a divine perspective, their sights were set too low.  They missed the far more compelling challenge of Jesus: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt 4:19).  They missed the prize of the upward call. Their accomplishments were all too fleeting. Jobs may have changed the world, even remade some of it, but it is neither permanent nor long lasting.  The new version of IPhone 4 will please customers and shareholders only so long.  Only in the work of sharing the gospel, fishing for hearts, seeing change from the inside out, is there something of eternal significance.  Their fierce independence may have served them in some way, but in becoming fiercely dependent do we approach the greatness Jesus defined (Matt 18:4).  

Nonetheless, there is something very important for us to learn from these men. They did what great entrepreneurs do—they take the simple (a pigskin, a screen) and infused them with emotion and meaning.  As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has done with coffee, and Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, has done with shoes, they took the raw materials of this world and changed culture.  They took the simple and made them profound. How much more must we, taking the profound—the gospel, the missional mandate of Jesus—impact the world?  Like them, we the church must be tenacious, minds never dulling. We too must look out into the future, watching the trend lines of culture.  But our sights must go far beyond the gridiron or the IPad, joining with the One who truly remade, remakes the world.  

In the end, how much we change the world is up to God.  Hunter, in his book To Change the World, puts it as clearly as most:  “Against the present realities of our historical moment, it is impossible to say what can actually be accomplished.  There are intractable uncertainties that cannot be avoided. Certainly Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that they will help to make the world a little bit better.”

  • freelance writing
    9:51 AM, 3 November 2011

    many article is just post without any consultation, unlike your post, there are means why it post, the Advocacy.

  • Andi - Trolley Jacks
    1:13 AM, 16 June 2012

    Steve Jobs is a great man. I hope our current generation will produce more geniuses like him. I will have to admit he’s a rare one.

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