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Tech's Enduring Great-Man Myth 273

An anonymous reader writes: Did Steve Jobs deserve his reputation as a brilliant inventor? Since Jobs's death in 2011, Elon Musk has been thrust into the spotlight as a man who can shake the pillars of tech. Does he deserve that reputation? MIT's Technology Review argues that media and the industry have a habit of making legends out of notable leaders, while failing to acknowledge all the support that allowed them to execute their ideas. From the article: "Musk's success would not have been possible without, among other things, government funding for basic research and subsidies for electric cars and solar panels. Above all, he has benefited from a long series of innovations in batteries, solar cells, and space travel." While it may be fun to compare him to Iron Man, the myth has its perils: "The problem with such portrayals is not merely that they are inaccurate and unfair to the many contributors to new technologies. By warping the popular understanding of how technologies develop, great-man myths threaten to undermine the structure that is actually necessary for future innovations."
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Tech's Enduring Great-Man Myth

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:34AM (#50254971)

    Pick any subject, there will be the famous in that field the masses of the same bent idolise (or hate). Some are deserved, others are mostly salesmen. Tech, sports, soap operas, movies, music, even no-mark celebrities will have millions following their public profile, creating emotional attachments that don't actually exist. This is what fills the void left by abandoning religion.

    • by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:44AM (#50254995) Homepage

      I think religion has its fake superheroes as well as the IT industry, and sports. Jobs was not a great inventor, but he did make Apple a very successful company.

      People tend to idolize too easily. It seems to be part of why we have such a disparity in incomes in this country. Steve Jobs could not have done anything without the engineers at Apple. Credit needs to be spread around more.

      • by Sivaraj ( 34067 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:22AM (#50255239)

        If you and I are given the same resources as Jobs, could we have created a Mac or iPhone? Jobs' greatness is not because he was a great inventor (though media simplifies it to that). But it is the ability to put all the resource available to him to realize a dream. I say this even though I am not a fan of Jobs or Apple. Quite the opposite.

        Same applies to Musk. Of course he was utilizing government subsidy as much as possible for Solar City and Tesla. Of course Falcon 9 and Dragon received significant government funding. But most of his competitors have the same resources available to them to even larger extent. Why weren't they able to produce a product that is as successful? It is in the ability to dream, and put together what he has to realize it.

        • Musk is good at spotting ideas that work, and making them work.

          Electric cars existed before the Tesla Roadster, but it was the first manufactured car that was aspirational; people seriously wanted one, and it was practical.

          The only real trick to that was sticking in a big enough battery- a big battery helps two ways- it increases range, but more subtly it increases the power/weight ratio.

          Of course it's more expensive, so that makes it a high-end car. But it's a fast car, so people are prepared to pay the pr

          • Musk has a lot of money to throw around because he happens to be the rich dude that resulted out of the PayPal dotcom. He's used that wealth to leverage his way into a 'enhanced Paul Allen' adventure that has endured so far. The ability of his organizations to latch onto big government subsidies has further enabled him to throw around even more of other people's money.

            Yes, he is a very special individual, just like any other business wheeler-dealer who hit paydirt and is rolling forward with his winnings. J

          • The only real trick to that was sticking in a big enough battery- a big battery helps two ways- it increases range, but more subtly it increases the power/weight ratio.

            The real trick was doing it at the right time; when battery technology had made it affordable. I know that's a funny word to use in conjunction with the Tesla, but it wasn't that long ago that a water-cooled Lithium battery pack big enough to run a glorified motorcycle (e.g. Corbin Sparrow) was $20k, and the Tesla packs are dramatically larger than that.

            • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @12:10PM (#50256479) Homepage

              To some extent, but it wasn't particularly affordable even then- that's why they specifically went with a high-end car like the Roadster. And make no mistake, the Roadster actually changed things- we may not have had the Nissan Leaf yet, if there had been no Roadster. The Roadster killed the giggle factor. Before that electric cars were looked at as glorified electric milk floats (even though the EV1 showed the way, nobody really listened as it was more of a concept car).

            • The real trick was doing it at the right time; when battery technology had made it affordable.

              A lot of people forget or ignore the fact that this applies to Apple as well (and almost certainly to numerous other manufacturers). Apple didn't invent touch screens or radios, and the performance of CPUs and memory had been increasing along with the size and power consumption decreasing. Apple's major accomplishment was recognizing that all of the technology had advanced to the point that they could assemble a device that people wanted to buy at a price that people were willing to pay. If Apple hadn't don

        • by Javagator ( 679604 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @10:20AM (#50255605)
          Here is my impression. Jobs was not a great innovator. What made him successful was his ability to recognize and surround himself with people who had talent. People like Andy Hertzfield and Steve Wozniak. Most managers like to surround themselves with people that look and act "professional".
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            He did seem to have that ability, but it was as nothing to his greatest strength: the Reality Distortion Field. If you read accounts of the early Apple days [folklore.org] even back then much of his success was due to simply convincing people that everything his company produced was great, even when it wasn't.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          Nobody is claiming Musk or Jobs aren't (weren't) good at what they do, just that what they do is not in a vacuum. Could Musk or Jobs accomplish anything at all without a small army of largely unsung talented engineers and an even larger army of unskilled and semi-skilled workers whose names you will never know? Would Apple be anything at all today if Woz had sucked at electronics design? There has never been much market for $2000 boxes that smoke when you plug them in.

        • by ttsai ( 135075 )

          Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc. definitely have special talents to recognize a market opportunity and to assemble the necessary resources to bring a successful product to market. However, they also have to be "lucky". There has to be an opportunity to recognize. As Malcomb Gladwell notes, there's an uncanny correlation between birth years and success as a founder in Silicon Valley, and one possible explanation is the penalty of recognizing an opportunity too early before supporting technology matures or too

      • People tend to idolize too easily... Steve Jobs could not have done anything without the engineers at Apple.

        I think we also idolize too easily in the sense that we oversimplify people's characters. We both idolize and vilify. People are good or bad. They're good businessmen or they're bad businessmen. They're smart or they're stupid. They're nice or they're mean.

        We don't like dealing with the subtlety of reality. Really, people are good in some ways, bad in others. Nice sometimes, mean other times. Good at certain aspects of running a business, but bad at other aspects, and the best and luckiest people m

      • by orasio ( 188021 )

        Doesn't seem right to me.
        I don't like Jobs or Apple, but...

        There are lots of engineers. As an example, Woz is as good as they get. He was instrumental to Apple's early success.
        Nonetheless, Woz without Jobs did lots of great stuff, but nothing close to what Jobs achieved when no longer working with him. I think Jobs credit is well deserved. He did make things happen, and his own contribution did at least jumpstart the consumer smartphone industry, among other achievements. It was not a technical feat, it wa

        • You express the reverence of elites that I find problematic very well, but you appear to embrace it. I don't understand why there is such reverence for elites. Jobs was also notorious as a bully and a litigator. He wanted to sue everyone. He also colluded with other tech bosses to keep salaries down and prevent people from switching from one company to the other. I just don't see any of that helping make him a great inventor. And without any engineers, Jobs would have been able to do virtually nothing by hi

          • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
            While I dislike how at some point, given millions of years, one of my ancestors had to be stronger than someone else and probably kill them in competition for not enough resources, but if it wasn't for them I would not be alive. I'm saying, you can't have you cake and eat it to. If you want someone that is capable of surviving a hyper competitive environment, they're going to have to be an asshole and screw over everyone every chance they get.
            • Of course there is the other option that your very large cerebral cortex provides you as a human, you could cooperate with others, and be willing to give each other credit for helping to contribute when the job is done. So, no, being an ahole and screwing everyone over is a choice, not a necessity.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          Everything you just said applies as well to CEOs. All the steering and seduction in the world is useless if the product doesn't work (or exist).

          At the end of the day, the CEO is just another cog in the machine. His abilities are needed, but so are the engineer's abilities. Practically nobody can do it all and nobody at all has enough hours in the day for that. Engineering without sales and marketing will go bankrupt. Sales and marketing without engineering and labor is fraud.

          If the engineer decides the ship

      • People tend to idolize too easily. It seems to be part of why we have such a disparity in incomes in this country. Steve Jobs could not have done anything without the engineers at Apple. Credit needs to be spread around more.

        So the questions are:

        1) Would - not just could - the engineers of Apple had created iWhatever without Jobs?

        2) Is that a bad thing? That is, is iWhatever's existence of net positivive or negative utility?

        3) Assuming the utility is positive and high, let's say a million times average hum

    • Got It All Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:09AM (#50255141)

      I don't think that people actually in the industry believe that Jobs or Musk invented anything. What they did was to bring things together, provide the organization and the motivation and the vision to bring a product to market. It's an entirely different skill set than that of an "inventor".

      • by haruchai ( 17472 )

        Musk did draw up the design for the Hyperloop. What I find impressive is not if it's even feasible but that he found the time to do it.
        Does he not have enough to do at SpaceX & Tesla, the public appearances, shareholder meetings, raising FIVE boys, etc???

      • by plover ( 150551 )

        Jobs was a great leader, not a great inventor. He inspired creative people to create better things than what existed at that time, and he insisted the human interface was the most important aspect. He refused to accept tiny improvements. And he knew immense profits lay at the end of that path.

        And he pissed a lot of people off. Some people willingly accept a sociopathic tyrant, others are repulsed.

      • I don't think that people actually in the industry believe that Jobs or Musk invented anything. What they did was to bring things together, provide the organization and the motivation and the vision to bring a product to market. It's an entirely different skill set than that of an "inventor".

        That's the problem. One skill set gets all the glory, but you need the entire suite to actually produce a successful product.

        Companies are more than just a way to assemble workers on the line. They're a way to create an aggregate of skills that can do more than any number of individuals who all possessed the same skill did.

        That's why you need a Wizard, a Dwarf, an Elf, a couple of Men and some Hobbits.

        • Not sure where you were going with your FOTR allegory there.

          Technically speaking, the FOTR wasn't particularly successful. In fact, ultimately, the only reason it was, was because of Gollum.

          So, do we need a Gollum in the mix for the greater good? :-P

    • others are mostly salesmen

      You say that like it's not a good quality. Ever work for a tech company without a sales department?

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        By the same token, if you have a sales department but no labor and engineering, you are a Nigerian scam.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:40AM (#50254987) Journal
    It is common in upper stratosphere populated by MBAs. Do you think all those entry level hacks who glean through excel spreadsheets till their eyes gloss over get acknowledged come bonus time?

    Or even in place constantly in the public eye, like the movies. Except for a few movie buffs no one can name the assistant art director or the sound editor. You really think George Lucas personally coded up the spec for Lucas Theater Sound after slogging in the anechoic chamber for months on end? People at asst art director level get paid about 200$ per shift or so. Is that true? Is the pay that low?

    Or in politics, or in sales, or in coding....

    [Quick question about the word "only". English is not my first language, and I get confused about the proper use of only. For example in the subject line, the word only applies to what? To the verb happens or to the phrase "in tech"?]

    • by XanC ( 644172 )

      I would say that "only" definitely applies to "in tech".

    • Quick question about the word "only". English is not my first language, and I get confused about the proper use of only. For example in the subject line, the word only applies to what? To the verb happens or to the phrase "in tech"?

      As another English-non-first-languager, I would say it depends on context (which one needs to practice to figure out...). In both
      * It happens only in tech.
      * It only happens in tech.

      "only" would apply to "tech".

      But in
      * I said: only peel the onions!

      it applies to the verb "peel" (he should not have chopped them too), while in
      * I said: peel only the onions!

      it applies to the noun "the onions" (he should not have peeled the tomatoes too).

      Can't apply "only" to "happens", but you could make it apply to "i

      • That's mainly because the misplaced modifier in "it only happens in tech" doesn't confuse because it makes no sense to apply "only" to "happens" ("This is the only thing that happens in tech; nothing else does").

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      This is just the tech flavored version of the great CEO myth, the idea that the success of some giant multinational is due to the tireless genius of one man.

      Sadly, the partial truth of this myth is that so often CEOs essentially make giant bets with company resources which helps them claim to be business geniuses.

      The everyday reality is that of course it ignores the individual contributions of all the thousands of employees, not to mention the specific contributions of the small army of advisers and experts

    • [Quick question about the word "only". English is not my first language, and I get confused about the proper use of only. For example in the subject line, the word only applies to what? To the verb happens or to the phrase "in tech"?]

      The definitive essay on this subject: Only His Only Grammarian Can Only Say Only What Only He Only Means [sri.com].

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Do only(1) you only(2) think only(3) it only(4) happens only(5) in tech only(6)?

      A professional editor at the New Yorker with decades of editing experience would struggle to formally delineate the differences in those six cases. And just this sentence is just thirteen words, just padded out with just words.

      (1) As opposed to other people.
      (2) As opposed to thinking other things.
      (3) As opposed to vaguely posed alternate anaphors.
      (4) As opposed to other places, with a potentially abstract notion of "place".
      (5)

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

      coded up the spec for Lucas Theater Sound after slogging in the anechoic chamber for months on end?

      kind of like you can make tons of money at Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonalds, but not burger flipping or working the cash register. Same for gas stations, don't be the one working the counter (or pumping the gas for states that prohibit customers pumping gas). Where you want to be to get the big bucks is high up in a skyscraper someplace far, far, away from the delivered product.

  • Media which makes its living by communicting to masses of people using short time, low attention narratives has to hook into themes it knows all viewers already understand and respond to. These are themes everyone is just genetically pre-wired to understand.

    Young, high status male searches for and mates with most beautiful woman.

    Evil tribe attempts to destroy us but instead is itself destroyed, thanks to acts of courage and selflessness.

    Singularly great man brings knowledge, light and power to the masses.

    Th

  • by jfbilodeau ( 931293 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:45AM (#50255005) Homepage
    From the post: "Musk's success would not have been possible without, among other things, government funding for basic research and subsidies for electric cars and solar panels. Above all, he has benefited from a long series of innovations in batteries, solar cells, and space travel."

    But was Musk the only one to receive those subsidies and benefit from those innovation? He stood on the shoulder of giants, but he was the one to make it a reality. That is the difference between the average and the great IMHO.
    • That is the difference between the average and the great IMHO.

      Or the lucky.

      • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:34AM (#50255311)

        I don't think "lucky" really applies to Musk, at least not now or not anymore.
        He claims to have been thinking about space travel & personal transportation since his college days but let's say that's bullshit and that his early startup successes were lucky.
        But no-one lucks into founding a company that builds rockets from scratch and becoming the head of a struggling electric car company at the same time.
        He could easily have taken all the cash he had and gone off to live a life of ease, well, as much ease as you can have raising 5 or 6 kids.
        Instead, he chose to tackle not one but two disruptive businesses that are cash & resource intensive instead of sitting at home and coding up some cool apps - he's been writing software since adolescence and is one of the ways he paid his way through college.

      • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:37AM (#50255319) Homepage

        That is the difference between the average and the great IMHO.

        Or the lucky.

        Yeah, but The harder I work, the luckier I get [quoteinvestigator.com].

        There is an element of luck, but Musk is a hard worker and knows how to surround himself with brilliant people that he has the ability to lead on a common task. This is something that most people cannot do.

      • As mentioned in a separate post this elevation of a single person is not limited to tech. It is also not a recent thing. Isaac Newton is given credit for all kinds of things without mentioning any of his contemporaries or predecessors. Newton had friends in politics and someone pushing his book and theories. We could say the same about virtually everyone. Okay, maybe we could argue exceptions like Socrates, Archimedes, Da Vinci, and Einstein.

      • I don't think it's and either/or situation. Every person who is rich or successful is lucky. Every single one. I don't care how hard they worked or how smart they were, every one of them had moments where if they'd turned left instead of right, or if some random person hadn't helped them, they would not have been able to make it all work.

        But also, almost all of them had some kind of virtue that made it possible. It's not that the guy running a huge software company is necessarily the best programmer an

      • That is the difference between the average and the great IMHO.

        Or the lucky.

        Spot on. One of the reasons the Merlin engine is so small (relatively speaking) and Falcon 9 has nine of them - is that Musk and SpaceX screwed up, badly. They bought into the article of faith in alt.space that there is a huge and untapped market demand for small payload launch services and that was a logical place for rebel startups to position themselves. (Resulting in the Falcon I.) They got lucky and managed to get a new des

      • Jobs had skills. Think of it like this......imagine Donald Trump got placed as CEO of Apple in 1999. Would we see the iPod? Would we see the iPhone? Not at all, we would have seen a bankruptcy, because that's where Trump's skills lie. Trump is good at that, somehow Apple investors would have gotten more than they deserved from it, but we never would have seen the iPad.

        For an even bigger contrast, think of what would happen if Carly Fiorina were in charge at Apple in 1999. Or even Larry Ellison. It wouldn
      • "Luck" is the term used by envious unsuccessful people, who don't understand all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into someone else's success.

        If a person gets it right 1 out of 100 times, it's the ones who try 100 times who will get "lucky," not the ones who try only 10 times. "Good luck" is something that you make for yourself, not something that falls out of the sky into your lap.

    • the shoulder of giants

      IMHO everything that is being made now has benefitted from so much shoulders(inventors,libraries,schools,...) that no patents are justified anymore

      • Every invention has always involved a composition of existing technologies, and in nearly every case that composition looks obvious in hindsight. The world has long since internalized the notion that "invention" means "combining existing technologies in a way that has value to people". Only on Slashdot do people labor under the delusion that "invention" means "creating a brand new technology out of thin air".

        This is why people on Slashdot don't understand patents and don't understand why some companies are

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      Remember that he also didn't personally do any of it, he held the purse strings.
    • Ideas and innovation happen everywhere, except most people dont have what it takes to make a meaningful change in the world with their ideas. Execution matters. Musk and Jobs are not great men because they had great ideas or they invented something, they are great because they made existing inventions work in the real world.
      Basic research is all fine, but most of it sits in obscure papers where it does nobody any good. IIRC John Carmack didnt invent fast inverse square root, he plucked it from somewhere and

  • Journalists are lazy - hence 1 hero not 100 when it's a massive group effort.
  • The people repeating the "Steve Jobs was the Greatest" mantra over and over are the Apple haters who really feel the need for their predictions that Apple will fail without him to be true. Any moment now.
    • The people repeating the "Steve Jobs was the Greatest" mantra over and over are the Apple haters who really feel the need for their predictions that Apple will fail without him to be true. Any moment now.

      Apple has only enjoyed sustained growth under Steve Jobs. When they got rid of him, they suffered. Now he's gone again, and they're suffering again. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to recognize that Apple needs a strong hand at the helm. But it also doesn't take a genius to recognize that Apple can flail for quite some time before it runs out of money, or even cachet.

      • Bwahahaha. Way to prove my point.
        • Bwahahaha. Way to prove my point.

          If you can think of a reason why I shouldn't dislike Apple, why don't you let me know what it is? I was a Mac user in the Lisa days, which is to say, as long ago as was possible. And of course, an Apple ][ (and //) user before that. I know why I hate Apple, it's not just on a humbug.

  • It's human nature (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:48AM (#50255027)

    It happens everywhere, in every field. Great statesmen the same treatment, famous activists, artists, etc. as well. Even Martin Luther King and Gandhi were highly fallible human beings who would probably not withstand the scrutiny of the public eye in the 21st century if they were active today. Why do I use them? They're secular saints.

    On some level, people need giants and heroes. It's just part of who we are. It's why monarchy and quasi-monarchy like presidential systems are the norm for political systems, not purer republics and democracy. The public naturally wants to believe that great people are running things and leading the way. The alternative is subtly felt as chaos.

    If anything makes the public less able to understand what goes into technology, it's the media making it seem like so many products are successful. If the public actually knew the truth that, for example, the overwhelming majority of app developers are working day jobs or living near poverty, that would help to understand that this stuff is **hard** even when it's just making apps, let alone electric cars.

    • The truth is even more subtle than that: these people not only have the luck of attention, but they have the collection of drive, vision, and technical understanding required to become these great figures.

      Steve Jobs and Elon Musk carry a lot of skills developed by all good managers and CEOs: they can lead people, they can develop business strategies, and they can speak and engage in diplomacy. They also develop enough of an understanding of technology to recognize its limits and its potentials, and so

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:52AM (#50255043)
    ...not to be confused with the great Mythical Man-Month [wikipedia.org], which is a completely different technical myth that never seems to die.
    • MMM highlights an error in thinking but, as with most such observations, it also suggests a corrected view which is largely incorrect. We have processes and procedures to analyze projects and identify where we can accelerate them by adding manpower, as well as to analyze the risk of adding manpower and determine how likely it is to slow us down instead of speed us up. The whole business of managing risk is assessing just how imperfect our understanding is--which is as good as you're ever going to get, hon
      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        it also suggests a corrected view which is largely incorrect.

        I suspect you are referring to the corrected maxim: "adding more people to a late project makes it later". Chuck an implied "always" in there, and you are right. However, he didn't say that (otherwise it would have been a damn short book). In fact, he went over exactly what the issues you have to look out for are, particularly with the combinatorial explosion in communications overhead. Its those factors specifically you have to manage for, not some amorphous weasel concept like "risk".

        Really, I'd highly s

        • Its those factors specifically you have to manage for, not some amorphous weasel concept like "risk".

          Thing is you can never identify those issues. You can identify the potential for issues--for communications problems and technical problems--but you can't walk in, look around and say, "Oh, I know what's happening. Here's how to fix it." It almost never works that way. Every problem you identify has a large or small probability of actually occurring, and a large or small impact. Management of these known unknowns is a well-developed science; management of unknown unknowns is a nightmare.

          All the issu

          • his comment on resource management is accurate, but his conclusion that adding weight to a project just slows it down is woefully outdated.

            If you solved this problem by reducing the communication required between developers, then you basically solved it by building on his work.

            He actually gives some ideas for how to integrate programmers to a project in a productive way. His point remains though, you can't just throw programmers at a project and expect it to work. You can't measure things in terms of "man months" and assume doubling the number of programmers will double the speed of completion.

            • I didn't solve that problem, although the solution is something I can recognize.

              He actually gives some ideas for how to integrate programmers to a project in a productive way. His point remains though, you can't just throw programmers at a project and expect it to work. You can't measure things in terms of "man months" and assume doubling the number of programmers will double the speed of completion.

              That's a very rough assertion, and it's the one most people frequently cite. People are quite attached to the warm-body problem, and so make conflicting statements pulling from all kinds of sources about it, without ever addressing the distorted reasoning produced by asserting all of these things at once.

              That's a general problem I've faced a lot, though: everyone just shouts dogma, and even the engineers only look at the sur

              • I'm not entirely sure what you are saying lol. Is it that you don't like mythical man month?

                The reality is, at the time the book was written, managers actually did consider man months to be a thing, and when a project was behind, they would just throw more people at it. The idea that doing so could actually put a project farther behind was actually novel at the time, although now it is obvious.

                So in context of history, his main point makes sense; in deeper analysis, the book still has lots of good thi
  • by countach ( 534280 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:53AM (#50255053)

    Is he arguing against a straw man? I don't think anyone would seriously argue that Jobs invented anything that (a) wasn't just combining existing tech and (b) probably wouldn't have come along a few years later anyway. Jobs did it first (sort of) and did it better. He wasn't an Edison, he was just a guy (a) with a ton of resource behind him and (b) with good taste and moderate foresight. Nobody would say he was an Edison. We don't live in an age when an Edison gets rich and famous. We live in an age when someone who can combine and weave together a ton of existing technologies into just the right consumer product can get rich and famous.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      One could say that edison was also just a guy who took the technological advances at his time and found a way to package them together into consumer products.

    • really? So anyone with the same resources and same moderate foresight and taste could have replaced him?
  • by elgatozorbas ( 783538 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:54AM (#50255063)
    It is obvious that a company's success also depends on the efforts of many anonymous workers and governments. However, that doesn't alter the fact that visionary leaders are needed to inspire them. I can imagine that, statistically, all large companies have, on the average, an equally competent workforce. These statistics don't apply to the small group of top management, let alone the CEO. These are the people that set out the company course. Therefore, I refuse to believe e.g. Apple's success is purely coincidental. Same holds for Virgin, Tesla etc. Whether the personal adoration and cult status is desirable, is another matter altogether, but the importance of a CEO goes without saying.
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @08:58AM (#50255077)
    You usually don't hear about those who are great at tech but bad at business.
    • gutenberg, tesla are two :-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by keko ( 1010009 )
        And Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie, to who pretty much everyone in the tech field owes something. Including Steve Jobs, too. They passed away with just a few days of difference. There wasn't worldwide candle lighting events for Ritchie.
    • How about Wozniak? Of course, he had the good luck to be partnered with somebody good at business, at least for a while.

  • Nobel Prize anyone? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    A bunch of kids are playing together by building a tower out of legos. One of them places a final brick to complete the tower. The parents & teachers rush over and congratulate the one kid for placing that final brick and shower her with candy & praise. The rest of the kids are asked by their parents, "why couldn't they try harder and be like that kid?"

  • If there's anything that Steve Jobs wasn't it's "inventor". I wouldn't restrict his role to "sales guy" as perhaps Bill Gates was, but he had other merits. He realized that design (which includes user experience and user interface and is more technical skill than the artistic skill of designing a nice case) can be more important than any technical invention.

    Jobs, even Apple as a company, never invented anything. Their merit is taking some existing niche technology and making it usable for the first time.

    Zuc

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "I wouldn't restrict his role to "sales guy" as perhaps Bill Gates was"

      You do realize Gates was the head programmer and lead architect for a very long time. Even in to the 90s he was famous for saying "what? You don't have it done yet? Fine, I'll do it myself this afternoon." For whatever you call him, to say he wasn't just a "sales guy".

    • Facebook is a website. It uses existing web technologies and runs on existing hardware. It isn't the first social network and it's hard to even identify any Facebook features that didn't exist on earlier platforms. It is the very definition of taking existing technologies and making it usable--and very arguably is just a "right place, right time" success story.

      I don't see how you can call Facebook a major "invention" while saying that the company that launched four separate computing revolutions (each leadi

  • by fche ( 36607 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:04AM (#50255113)

    Yes, "he didn't build that".

  • by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:04AM (#50255115)

    Fantastic. Another variation on "you didn't build that". This sort of rationalization has been going on for as long as the human race has been civilized -- the underachiever (or unlucky, or oppressed... choose your favorite flavor) making himself feel better by trivializing the achievements of exceptional people. If ANYONE can stand on the shoulders of giants, why aren't more people doing it?

  • by Marginal Coward ( 3557951 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:11AM (#50255157)

    The Great-Man Myth may well be a bit of a myth, but there also must be some truth to it. Rather than describe Steve Jobs as an "inventor," I think he could better be described as an "innovator." I'm not sure he invented much of anything: he didn't invent the Apple I and Apple II (Wozniak did), and he didn't invent the GUI (Xerox Parc and others did.) Instead, he brought emerging technology together in an innovative way to create new categories of products such as the Macintosh, iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Each of those were composed of a set of inventions created by others but brought together under Jobs' direction. Likewise, he didn't invent computer animation at Pixar (which was already doing that when he acquired it), but he guided Pixar through the process of creating the first feature-length computer-animated movie.

    So, for a serial innovator like Jobs or Musk, there seems to be an element of greatness in the fact that they have a vision and organize others to implement that vision. But its likely that they get more than their share of the limelight in the process of the media simplifying and glamorizing their stories for consumption by the masses. Edison actively encouraged that sort of thing in the media of the time, by promoting the idea that he was the great inventor, whereas he actually ran the first industrial research laboratory - which itself is one of his primary inventions.

    In the case of the Apple I and II, Wozniak seems to get his fair share of credit since he did all of the engineering himself, but for other things, a team of people is involved, and it's rare for them to get much credit. Except in the case of the first Macintosh, where the designers got to sign the inside of the case.

    So, like most myths, there's some truth to the Greate-Man Myth, though it's also, of course, a bit of a "myth."

    • brought emerging technology together in an innovative way to create new categories of products

      Why don't you consider that to be invention [wikipedia.org]?

    • It's not typically a smart financial move in today's society to actually invent things for a living. It's FAR more likely to bring a person financial success if they merely build upon known successes.

      I've run across a few guys who really do fit the description of the classical tinkerer/inventor and all of them were living relatively "middle class" lives, living in average sized homes, and paying for what they had with something other than their inventing and tinkering skills.

      Steve Jobs really deserves the

  • Leaders always get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they go badly.

    Let's use a sports analogy. Think about your favorite football team. Everybody worships the quarterback and he's clearly the guy running the show but he's just one of 11 guys. If the receiver drops the ball or the lineman misses a block it doesn't matter how good the quarterback is. The quarterback can do everything right but the other guys still have to perform. The good quarterback can make a team better but

  • Leader types just get all the credit because they are out in front taking the risks and enduring the public.

    However, they would be nothing without the legions of support behind them.

    I, personally, am a follower, I accept this. I know that I will never be "successful" in that sense but I am comfortable in my anonymity.

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:20AM (#50255223) Homepage Journal

    It doesn't matter what industry segment you look at, the "leaders" always take the credit for other's work. Some guy on the shop floor saved $2 million a year in manufacturing costs? The shop floor manager gets the bonus.

    Some engineer came up with a new chemical dye process for VLSI manufacturing? The department head gets the bonus.

    Some programmer worked their ass off re-writing the accounting system to correct bugs and improve performance? The director of accounting gets the bonus.

    It is the nature of the "rich and powerful" to be greedy fucks about the bonuses and the fame.

  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:28AM (#50255275) Journal
    What's the point of this article? Nobody thinks Jobs or Musk was abandoned by their parents on some deserted island, and was raised by wolves but somehow managed to discover calculus and electromagnetism. The difference between guys like Jobs and Musk versus your average engineer or lab scientist is having a compelling vision of the future and doing what it takes to achieve it. I don't idolize either one, but I'm not going to deny that they're a breed apart.
    • This is very true. Another crucial characteristic is being a leader. None of this stuff could have happened without the thousands of people involved all doing their part, and none of them would have be doing any of it without being led by Jobs or Musk. There are not many great leaders. To lead you have to have the drive, confidence and vision which most people just don't seem to be bothered about.
  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @09:47AM (#50255375)
    of Giants.

    The gist of this article is that since things have been invented before, no one can be considered great any more unless everything they do has never been done before.

    I guess there will be no more great people.

  • Whether it's invention, integration, or just plain copying, a product has to be timely, to appeal to real and perceived needs. Steve Jobs was fortunate to be developing and marketing products during a time when gadgets and other small personal devices were taking on an extra psychological meaning to consumers. The same way that a vast number of consumers felt as though their cars were an extension of their ego and had to both reflect and enhance who they are, gadgets (and sneakers) started to do the same th

  • He deserves credit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday August 05, 2015 @12:04PM (#50256429) Journal

    Job's brilliance was turning new technology into entire new industries 5 to 10 years before it otherwise would happen. He could see the future of the application of technology better than others.

    He helped bring about a commercially successful microcomputer when HP, IBM, and others were stumbling at the low end. (IBM learned from their mistakes and Apple's success to bring out the PC a few years later.)

    When he saw GUI's at Xerox, he know that's where the future was and knew how to stretch the lowly hardware of the day to make it a consumer product. (Xerox tried a product, but was too expensive and F'd up the GUI.) Granted, he stumbled a bit with the Lisa, but with some help got the Mac going.

    He recognized the potential of Pixar's technology and helped launch a new industry. Everyone else saw Tron's failure at the box office and didn't want to touch CGI anymore. He said, f8ck Tron, I'm going to make this work.

    He simplified the desktop in the iMac and made it stylish when everyone else did beige or macho Terminator gamer boxes.

    The iPod had an appealing and simple interface while the competitors were clunky to use and learn, and sales rocketed.

    He realized touchscreen was the future instead of Blackberry-like physical buttons, and rolled over them with the iPhone. (Android originally targeted physical keys until they saw iPhone do it right.)

    He's the master glue between technology, users, and industrial design. He's not an inventor, but an integrator who knows when to zig when everyone else is zagging.

    "Inventor" is the wrong word, but that shouldn't take away from his genius.

  • Once they lose their halo they are subsequently sacrificed and a new King is chosen. ref [templeofearth.com]
  • Do great men make great events, or do great events make great men? The most recent invocation was the PBS 70th anniversary of the atom bomb and how Grove and Oppenheimer pulled it off in a short time. I suspect both sides are correct. There are clever peopel in all eras ready to be tapped.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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