Allworth’s simplified version of the Innovator’s Dilemma (as explained with greater precision in Christensen’s book) is that successful innovators are led astray by the pursuit of profit. Jobs supposedly disdained profit, along with any number of other business school best practices, and produced “a company that looks entirely different to almost any other modern Fortune 500 company”. In an unrelated article on Steve Jobs and the purpose of the corporation (HBR October 2011), Ben Heineman has asserted that “Apple existed to delight customers first — benefits to other stakeholders, including shareholders, followed”.
Jobs’ original expulsion from Apple may well have been partly caused by his failure to respect the traditional gods of management. On his return, he characterized the difference between Sculley and himself in terms of profitability versus passion. Jobs later told Walter Isaacson, his official biographer: “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. The products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything.” [via Huffington Post October 2011]
But as I indicated in my previous blogpost (There is always another story), Jobs was outstandingly good at constructing simple either-or narratives of this kind, and persuading everyone to believe them. His former colleague Bud Tribble called this a Reality Distortion Field. We sometimes have to work hard to avoid taking such narratives at face value. Like many wealthy rock stars or religious gurus, Jobs may have enjoyed creating the impression that he didn’t care about wealth. But we don’t have to believe it.
Note: Professor Christensen tweeted James Allworth’s HBR article without further comment, so I take that as indicating broad agreement with the article’s main premise. See also Evgeny Morozov, Form and Fortune – Steve Jobs’s pursuit of perfection and the consequences (The New Republic, February 22, 2012).