Who knew: Steve Jobs breaks rules

Venture capitalist, former Apple executive and writer Jean-Louis Gassée takes issue with Peter Elkind's rip on Steve Jobs in the recent issue of Fortune. For Gassée, Steve Jobs is Silicon Valley's Yves Saint Laurent, a creator who towers above his profess

Guest post: Venture capitalist, former Apple executive and writer Jean-Louis Gassée takes issue with Peter Elkind's rip on Steve Jobs in the recent issue of Fortune. For Gassée, Steve Jobs is Silicon Valley's Yves Saint Laurent, a creator who towers above his profession and defies rational explanation.
Fortune

So, what we have here is another Fortune magazine cover featuring Steve Jobs: Apple is now the Most Admired Company in America. But inside the magazine, the crown turns thorny. Peter Elkind tells us about "The Trouble With Steve Jobs." You see, he breaks rules.

The author starts with a lofty goal: "It may be instructive, then, to consider what drives the Steve Jobs adventure." Unfortunately, in a piece that is by turns schoolmarmish and leering, we're served a warmed-over compilation of Silicon Valley lore, of known and alleged infractions. No insight in sight. Try this: remove Jobs' name from the rap sheet. Now, does Steve Doe look any different from scores of unremarkable humans, good citizens or petty criminals?

Just for fun, I'm sure Peter Elkind will be a good sport about it, let's turn the projector back on the author. Let's scrutinize his appetites as documented in his writings: a book about the Enron scandal, another about a murderous pediatric nurse in Texas, and magazine articles covering Wall Street malfeasance. Does Steve belong to any of Mr. Elkind's favorite beats?

Steve might look like he's running a business but he is, in fact, a creator, an artist, not a business manager -- notwithstanding the terrific numbers. How do you explain Steve's string of unequalled creations? The Apple II, the Macintosh, Pixar (think Ratatouille's Oscar), reviving the Mac and Apple, iTunes and the iPod, Apple stores and the iPhone. Is this the result of a Mitt Romneysque crunching of market data or is it the mysterious firing of a maniacal engine of creativity and iron will?

There is no secret to pierce here, we're dealing with a mystery. Secrets are locks, they're to be picked. Mysteries have no combination, they leave logic helpless. Here, metaphors are in order.

Metaphors provide a bridge between ideas when the connection of deductive logic fails, when there is no lock to pick. In my metaphor, Steve Jobs is Silicon Valley's Yves Saint Laurent, a prima donna assoluta , no hidden pun, no typos allowed, a creator who towers above his profession and defies rational explanation.

Yves Saint Laurent Pierre Boulat

Yves Saint Laurent made tons of money but couldn't be accused of being a businessman. And the couturier's behavior... Steve can't even begin to approach Yves' well-documented collection of deportments. (Alicia Drake's book on Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld is a terrific and instructive read.)

Of course, of course, we know society needs rules. Many in the Valley fear someone some day might find a way to nail Steve. Imagine the prize for a buck attorney or a dogged investigative reporter: set for life.

Still, do we want Steve's next Spring collection or do we want a Fortune writer to tell us how rule-abiding Apple's CEO is? Actually, no danger of the latter: no controversy, no advertising revenue. We don't break that rule.

Jean-Louis Gassée

Jean-Louis Gassée is a partner with the venture firm Allegis Capital. Prior to Allegis Capital, Gassée founded the pioneering multimedia system software company Be, Inc., which was sold to Palm in 2001. He previously served as president of the Apple Products Division was the CEO of the French affiliates of Data General and Exxon Office Systems. He started his tech career at Hewlett-Packard.

 

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