Friday, October 7, 2011

Product and Service

I'm typing this on an iMac, which is unsurprising, because my house is littered with Apple products.

The wife and I both have iPhone 4s.  That's 4s, plural, not Four - Esses, which we probably won't get.  My Four is the fourth iPhone I've owned, as the first two met untimely demises at my clumsy hands, and the last one got handed down to my son.

The boys both have old nanos, which see intermittent use.  One has a Touch, which is his camera and primary portable gaming platform.  The other has that repurposed, de-simmed iPhone 3GS, which is serving the same function.  To replace our recently flamed-out first-gen Intel Macbook Pro, we acquired an Air, which is a lovely piece of kit.  Oh, and my wife has a 3G iPad, first gen.

If you've invested in Apple over the years, our family has done our part to insure that your investment yielded handsome returns.

The legacy of Steve Jobs is, without question, those exceptionally well-designed products.  His legendary precision and unrelenting focus on product excellence was what made him such a competent CEO.  The bottom line, if you are making something to sell in the marketplace, is to make that product as well-designed and constructed as possible.   That was always Job's focus, which meant that he had absolutely no tolerance for mediocrity.  He was an absolutely legendary perfectionist, and had an unerring sense of what makes for a solid product.

That, frankly, is what guarantees the profitability of a corporation.  If you focus on making an excellent product, and price it fairly, you will succeed.  If you focus on profit above all else, you will become distracted from that primary goal.  You will start making Chevy Vegas, and you will fail.

In that, Jobs knew and lived out what it takes to be successful in business.

But in the thickets of hagiography for this profoundly accomplished entrepreneur and businessman, I hazard to ask:  is that what matters?

Jobs created great, innovative, well-designed products.  But do they make the world a better place?  I remember what it was to be alive in the pre-iMac era, and a time when Apple was not my preferred provider of quality electronic devices.

Honestly?  It makes no difference.  What has been created is ethically neutral.

Sure, I can use that iPhone to open up new lines of communication with a deaf shut-in, or help a lost stranger find his way.  But that same tech allows that guy down the street to video-sext with his lover while "working late" in his upstairs office while his wife sits alone in their bedroom, or your 15 year old daughter to send NSFW pictures to her manipulative 18 year old boyfriend.   Sure, I can use my Air or my iMac to blog about justice and grace, or to drop a supportive comment on the Facebook page of someone in need of prayer or kindness.  But I could also use them to spew anonymous hatred as the stalker-troll on some other human being's online presence.

The world is shinier and faster and more elegant.  But better?  To speak true, it does not feel so.

As I consider Jobs' life, I wonder at the meaningfulness of a life driven by perfectionism.   Having worked in the field of philanthropy for a while myself, I know that unlike many leaders in industry, Jobs had no interest in charity.  It simply didn't process.  He had no time for it.  He was far too busy and far too focused on product.  Unlike Bill Gates, who has poured his wealth into fighting diseases, or Warren Buffett, who has used the fruits of his business acumen to support Gates in that effort, or countless other leaders in the business sector, Jobs did not use his wealth...or the wealth of Apple...towards any end other than the improvement of Apple products.

Though the products are desirable, and exceptionally well crafted, they are just that.  Products.

And I wonder...is perfectionism what makes for a worthy existence?

And I wonder...is creating profitable and elegantly-designed products what merits a "that'll do, pig, that'll do" at the completion of this life?

I respect Jobs ferocity of purpose, and his creativity, and his intelligence, and his showmanship.  There was much to admire in his life.  I'm just not sure I'd want to live it.

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