The obituaries of Steve Jobs, understandably, all talk about his huge successes: he became incredibly wealthy, was universally admired, and played a major role in creating life-changing devices.
What most of the accounts I’ve seen give short shrift to, however, is Jobs’ enormous number of failures: the Apple III computer–the first PC built by Apple from the bottom up rather than as a hobbyist project–was so poorly designed that the company advised owners to pick it up and drop it a few inches whenever it stopped working. The Lisa, a personal computer that, if fully equipped, would have cost almost $20,000 in today’s money, sold very poorly (no surprise) and lost a bundle for Apple.
Early Macintosh computers were slow, balky, lacked the color graphics that even the Commodore Vic-20 had, and broke far too often. (John Sculley, the CEO Jobs brought to Apple, pushed him out over the Mac’s initially lackluster sales.)
Even a few products created after Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple flopped: Apple TV hasn’t caught on. The NeXT-like Apple G4 Cube (a beautiful piece of industrial design) also failed on the market. Apple, despite decades of trying, has never made much of a dent in the applications software market. (Does anyone, anywhere, use Apple’s Pages word processor?) These are not just a few scattered failures: I’d estimate that roughly half of the major ventures Jobs engaged in simply didn’t pan out.
Of course, Jobs was a huge success overall. But the magnitude of his failures–and his ability to recover from all of them–probably teaches at least as many lessons as the dizzying heights of his overall success.