It always bugs me when people say Steve Jobs was a great salesman. Here’s why.
The term “salesman” has a lot of negative connotations. Salesmen are people that come to your house and try to get you to buy something that you don’t really need. A salesman will sell you something at a cost much higher than its value. Salesmen are con-artists (albeit perhaps not quite as nefarious as a con). The problem isn’t with the person, but with the product. Salesmen sell poor-quality products that are not nearly as useful as you were lead to believe.
The thing about Steve is that the products he sold weren’t tricks. They were solid, useful, and made the world a better place. Take the iPhone or the iPad. Have they made a meaningful and positive impact on the world? Absolutely. They have improved the landscape of computing making it more accessible to more people. They have made the internet more ubiquitous and by extension, information and knowledge more readily accessible. They have made an impact in all sorts of industries – health, medicine, education, aviation, automotive, construction, news, real estate, banking, law enforcement, sports… It would be hard to enumerate all of the ways each product has changed our world for the better. The list would go on and on.
Think of it like this.
If Einstein had gone on to to sell the notion of E=MC², would that have been dishonest? Would it have been possible for him to understate the importance of this equation — even if he spent billions and billions of dollars in advertising? No. The equation he discovered has made an eternal impact on our understanding of our world. It is without measure.
Or what about Alexander Fleming “selling” the virtues of penicillin? Again I wonder: Would it be be possible for Fleming to understate the importance of this life-saving medicine, even if he spent his entire life proselytizing it’s merits? Probably not. It has irrevocably made the world a better place.
So what of the iPhone and iPad?
Comparing the advent of smartphones and tablets to E=MC² and penicillin may be inappropriate – that the computing devices have-not and will-never significantly change the world. Maybe the negatives outweigh the positives. Perhaps you are right — only time will tell which perspective is correct.
However, from my vantage point today, I think the positive impact of smartphones and tablets on all of humanity is vast. Immeasurably vast. It can not be understated. The world is a better place because of these inventions. And that is why Steve Jobs was never a salesman.
Side note: Let’s not rant about how someone else could have done what Apple did given more time. Had Apple not invented the iPhone, Androids would have looked like the old Blackberries. Tablets before the iPad were niche products that barely sold, and did not appeal to the masses. Apple’s leadership in these industries resonated so well that competitors scrambled to create similar competing products. Apple’s entry into the respective markets, with their new thinking on the problem, is what ignited exponential growth. Just like Fleming and Einstein, someone else would have undoubtedly made the same discoveries/inventions given enough time. They just happened to be the first to figure it out, which is why we honor them instead of calling them salesmen.