The “Other” Steve Jobs

In 1982, Steve Jobs decided that the Mac should have a graphical user interface. But when one of his engineers finally came up with the code that could draw circles on the screen, and very excitedly demonstrated it, Jobs seemed utterly unamused. Within just a matter of seconds, he judged circles as not being special at all. What he wanted to see were squares and rectangles with rounded corners. And his reasoning behind it was that rounded corners exist everywhere in real life. Passionately, he explained to the engineer, “The whiteboard is a rectangle with rounded corners, the table, the chair, the pavement, and the walls, almost everything is! But how many circles do you see around you? Almost none!” The team, forced by their whimsical leader, Jobs, ditched all the code to rewrite something that could produce squares and rectangles with rounded corners. 30 years later, the Macs, Macbooks, Airs, Pros, iPods and iPhones, all of which are revered as excellence in modern designing, still ship with the same rounded corners.

This is just a very elementary example of the vision Jobs had. He could see things naturally, that normally takes a team of analysts, psychologists, sociologists, marketers, designers and surveyors years to come up with. But almost 20 years later in the year 1999, far from the shores of Cupertino, one Scottish displayed that knack for seeing things, uncannily similar to the one Jobs had.

After already fielding his strongest team, Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of the English football club, Manchester United, sent in two late substitutions, namely Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Their rivals, the German team Bayern Munich were already 1 goal up and on their way to a comfortable victory, before the final 3 minutes of the game produced some sort of magic that would echo in the hearts of United fans forever. Both the subs, Sheringham and Solskjaer scored within those 3 minutes making Manchester United the champions of Europe, and turning the season into one, where they won all three of their major competitions, proudly referred to as “the Treble.”

That was not the first time, however, the world had seen the red nosed, and chubby Scott, exhibit his legendary vision and his unparalleled strive for perfection. In 1982, while Steve Jobs was preparing to change the world with his own visionary ideas in the form of the Mac, Sir Alex had won the Scottish league with Aberdeen — the first time in fifteen years. To follow up, he led Aberdeen to even greater success by qualifying for the European Cup Winners’ Cup. And this was perhaps the first glimpse of what was to become one of the most decorated managerial careers in football, almost similar to how the Apple I was an introduction to a young entrepreneur, who would go on to become one of the greatest innovators of the technology world.

Alex Ferguson did not invent football, or anything remotely related to it. He took charge of struggling team that had an illustrious history, infused his drive, vision and perfection to it, and turned in to the one of the biggest names in world football. Steve Jobs combined his vision and entrepreneurship with Wozniak’s creations which he was willing to give away for free, and turned it into one of the biggest names in the technology world. Steve Jobs and Alex Ferguson may be worlds apart in terms of the platform they operated in, but if closely looked at, their personalities and ways of making their vision come to life, are strikingly similar.

The Ruthlessness

Steve Jobs was a very temperamental character. He was notorious for harsh treatment of his employees. He would scream, yell, swear and even call them downright stupid. The only thing that mattered to him was what he wanted Apple to become. But on the other end, he was capable of being an extraordinary source of inspiration. Some of his employees recall, that they would do things right out of fear, but when everything really worked out, remembered those times as the most fun they had. Jobs was a demanding perfectionist who always aspired to position his businesses and their products at the forefront of the information technology industry by foreseeing and setting trends, at least in innovation and style. Everything that came on his way would become a casualty. Jobs was also a rebel. He was not afraid of going against people that believed against what he did. He also lacked affinity with the media. In 2005, Jobs also banned all books published by John Wiley & Sons from Apple Stores in response to their publishing incorrect information on his biography.

Alex Ferguson, too is infamous for his treatment of players in the dressing room following lackluster performances. His fiery tirade is commonly known in English football as “Sir Alex’s Hair Dryer Treatment.” But at the same time, out of fear and motivation, he too was capable of inspiring victories like the 1999 final. The only thing that mattered to Sir Alex, was the team, Manchester United, and anything that tried to stand taller than the club itself, would be very efficiently compromised. Some of the biggest names in world football, the likes of David Beckham, Roy Keane, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy have been silently ushered out of United after falling out with Alex Ferguson. Like Jobs, Ferguson too, has always displayed his rebellious traits. He has received numerous punishments for playing mind games with other managers, and publicly berating match officials. He, too, never really got along with the media. In 2004, after he did not agree with one of their documentaries, Alex Ferguson refused to give any interviews to the BBC up until 2010, when he was forced to, by the new Premiership rules.

The Influence

Apple’s Bud Tribble coined the term “reality distortion field” in 1981, to describe Jobs’s charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Mac project. It referred to Jobs’s ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything, using a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement, and persistence. Although things seemed impossible, Jobs somehow convinced everyone that it is possible, and as a result, most things were possible. A week before the launch of the Mac, the team called Jobs and mentioned that they needed two more weeks to finish coding. Jobs, calmly reiterated that the Mac would ship as planned, and the coding would be complete, and cut the phone off. Things somehow worked and there was no delay. Jobs believed anything was possible and through fear, inspiration or the reality distortion field, he made sure everyone else believed, too.

Manchester United, is not new to the word, “believe.” As a matter of fact, believe is a word United’s fans often use referring to historical victories and countless number of occasions where they turned sealed losses into victories, so much so that United’s name is almost synonymous to the event of turning games around with late, inspired goals. And amidst all this, is Alex Ferguson and his ability to inspire world class players, to win. Ferguson is infamous for keeping track of seconds of injury time and hustling them out from the match officials. Without denial, the core reason for all that lies in his belief that every second matters.

The Success

The world has seen two sides to Steve Jobs. The ruthless apathetic leader who failed to maintain any emotional bonding with his employees or colleagues; to whom, nothing mattered more than his vision of changing the world of technology, not even his daughter, Lisa who he refused to admit was his for a long time; who was ruthless against imperfections; who was so stubborn that he believed he could cure his cancer by Zen habits, and eventually lost his life to it. On the other side, we have witnessed Steve Jobs, who revolutionized personal computing, the way we listen to music and how we talk on the phone; who received accolades such as “legendary”, “futurist” and “visionary”, and has been described as the “Father of the Digital Revolution”, a “master of innovation”, and a “design perfectionist”; who inspired the Apple that we know of today that still operates under his philosophies.

The world has also seen two distinct Alex Fergusons. The strict disciplinarian who cannot accept anything other than victory; who fails to contain his emotions that come about from losses, going as far as swearing at players; to whom, nothing matters more than his team, not even football legends like David Beckham. And on the other end of the spectrum, day-in, day-out, we see the Alex Ferguson, who has been unreservedly loyal to his club for the past 25 years, longer than any league manager; who has won the Manager of the Year award most times in British history; who has one of the most decorated managerial careers, and the reputation of being one of the most admired and respected managers in the world of football; who single-handedly turned a relegating Manchester United into one of the biggest and most successful names of the modern football era.

Steve Jobs’ drive for perfection engendered a company, which will perhaps be forever known for its simple yet innovative designs, while Ferguson’s drive reignited a great football team. One has to understand Steve Jobs as a person to understand Apple, its products and its philosophy; and on the same note, one has to comprehend Sir Alex Ferguson to realize what Manchester United in the modern footballing era stands for. I have been fortunate enough to witness both these geniuses in action. I miss Steve Jobs, his innovations, his legendary keynote speeches, and cannot believe today marks a year since his death. And as a United fan, my team without Sir Alex is what Apple is without Jobs, and as we mourn the death of one leader, I cannot help but think of yet another era coming to an end.

Jobs’s loss was a sad day not only to Apple, but to the world of technology, designers, speakers, leaders and entrepreneurs. The end of Sir Alex’s reign will be a mournful day not only for Manchester United, but for the world of football, managers, fans and players alike.

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