Why You Shouldn’t Try to be Like Steve Jobs or Wonder What Google Would Do

There is no end to the inspiration that the most hyped tech giants inspire. Books like “What would google do”, films like “The Social Network” and hundreds of daily blog posts and articles chronicle the amazing exploits of some of the world’s most successful companies. Never the less, you are better off ignoring everything they did if you want to succeed yourself.

Read about these companies as if they were great works of fiction. You may get moral encouragement or emotional energy, but what they did is not a recipe to follow. You would not try to drive like James Bond does or attempt to move things with the power of your mind like Luke Skywalker (I hope). Similarly you should look at the life of Steve Jobs as a great story and don’t try it at home.

In the world of businesses big companies like apple, google, facebook, amazon, twitter etc. are anomalies. They are exceptions to the rule. As Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated in his book “Outliers” extraordinarily successful people are typically more a product of particular circumstances than their own skills. For example it is hardly a coincidence that Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystem founders Bill Joy and Scott McNealy where all born within a year of each other. To be sure, they were indeed incredibly talented, but above all they were at the right place at the right time.

From another angle Nicholas Nassim Taleb has argued that just by sheer chance you would find superstar investors that appear to have otherworldly qualities in picking the right investments. They have repeatedly placed everything they owned in risky investments and yielded massive returns. But if the strategy is to place everything you own on stupid risky financial bets, chances are that some one by the simple laws of chance will have won the bet several times and made a gazillion dollars. Whereas thousands following the same strategy will have lost the bet at one point and lost everything they owned. Guess who we hear about: naturally it is more interesting to look at the one case where it paid off, but should you copy the investments strategy just because it paid off one time? Off course you shouldn’t.

Anyhow, entrepreneurs and business people get mesmerized by the extraordinary success of a few companies and don’t think of the thousands of companies who did the same thing, but went bankrupt because they weren’t at the right place at the right time or because they just didn’t have the same luck. Consequently, doing what google does or trying to be Steve Jobs might be a bad idea and jeopardise your company’s existence.

Remember that google and facebook are still one hit wonders (but what hits!). Google is still just an advertising network, although they are good at advertising themselves as something else. Facebook is still just a social network, trying to be an advertising network. Apple started that way too and managed to survive long enough for the next fluke. All of them have been able to get away with massive amounts of incompetence and bad decisions that we just don’t notice because of the glare of success. Most “normal” companies could not get away with the same.

So, what we can learn from them is to be just as determined and work just as hard. Not be discouraged that we don’t succeed in quite the same way. And most important of all seek out the right place and time for what we are doing.