Tuesday, 25 October 2011 12:29

Apple's Steve Jobs and Lessons for the Country

Written by Michael Anyiam-Osigwe
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Nigeria may miss the significance of Jobs' short but very eventful life if we concentrate our focus on what government is doing by way of job creation and stimulation

The world mourned the passing away of Steve Jobs on October 5, 2011. Described as a "visionary, pioneer and genius in the field of business, innovation and product design", his death, sad as it is, provides a unique opportunity to draw Nigeria's attention to a number of salient truths, especially its teeming youth population in search of new inspiration in the face of crippling unemployment.

Good, this was not lost on President Jonathan as Jobs' name came up during the president's remarks at the official launch of the Federal Government's Youth Empowerment Scheme, tagged "You WIN" in Abuja on October 11, less than one week after the demise of the great pioneer.

But we miss the significance of Jobs' short but very eventful life if we concentrate our focus on what government is doing by way of job creation and stimulation. For Jobs' life and career carry a deeper significance and pose a bigger challenge. By the time of his death, Jobs was the chairman of the board of directors of Apple Incorporated, the company he co-founded with Steve Wozniak in the 1970s.

Nurtured by adoptive parents, Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon which he entered at 17 after only one semester, not because he could no longer cope with his studies or pay his way through school, but because he needed to answer to a greater pull. His story in this wise is not much different from that of another great pioneer Bill Gates, whose great life is the subject of global renown and still unfolding before us.

The seed for his short stay at Reed was laid some years earlier when as a high school student; Jobs frequented the Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto, California where he was raised for what was described as "after-school lectures". His adoptive father, Paul Jobs, a machinist, had taught young Jobs how to creatively use his hands as a child. His pioneering spirit had thus been kindled, and he could no longer be satisfied with an everyday, normal career. While he kept tabs with classes at Reed - and that is significant - he followed his heart into what would turn out to be an eventful and most challenging career.

At the time of his death at 56, Steve Jobs had impacted the world through Apple Inc. which he co-founded and administered as CEO, he was also the founder of NeXT, a computer platform development company specializing in higher education and business marketing, he also acquired the computer graphics division of Lucas film Limited which he renamed Pixar Animation Studios and whose CEO he was until its acquisition by The Walt Disney Company in 2006 with him emerging as the single largest individual shareholder of the group.

Even if Jobs was on the world's richest list, with a net worth of over 7 billion dollars, that was not his greatest significance. It was in first, living out his dreams and then, creating value on a global scale. For the story of human engineering and personal industry will not be complete without Jobs' name mentioned.

And here is the greater significance for Nigeria and especially her youths. It must be recalled that adoptive parents, Paul and Clara Jobs, raised Jobs. In Nigeria, adoption for couples that have challenges producing children of their own is still a big issue and the few who find the courage and heart to adopt are in some cases treated with scorn and maligned. This should no longer be the case. As Jobs' story has taught us, it can be very rewarding for the adoptive parents, not to talk of the children whose lives are given direction from the very beginning. Even when he became aware of his biological parents, Jobs stuck to his adoptive parents as the only parents he ever knew. In fact, his biological father, Abdul Fattah John Jandali, was quoted in an interview shortly before Jobs passing as saying: "I just wish I hadn't been the selfish man I must have been to allow both my children to turn their backs on me and pray it is not too late to tell Steve how I feel". Even though we now know the circumstances under which Jobs' biological parents put him up for adoption, the pain was no less, for it is Jobs, and not Jandali, that has entered the record books forever!

Another important lesson the Steve Jobs phenomenon offers Nigeria concerns the culture prevalent here over the years, where economic success is nearly always traceable to one form of government patronage or the other. "One must know the Big Man in Abuja or people in the corridors of power before anything can happen in this country. It is the major reason we as a people cannot speak truth to those in power - you don't on your life want to be on the wrong side of power even when you know the truth to be different! This sadly remains the reality even where the indications are that the leader sometimes appreciates being told the truth for a change.

And how the power mongers relish their moments in the sun and want it to last forever. Everybody worships at their feet and their endorsements make people instant millionaires and billionaires, most times from no discernable enterprise. This contrasts sharply with what Jobs sold to the world: intellectual property and creativity- attributes that most great nations of the world leverage on. And if we are to achieve the greatness, which we crave, we must resolve now to change the way we do things.

We must wean ourselves of the patronage culture that has eaten deep into our national psyche and stifled our creativity as a people. We must now begin to cultivate a new thinking on the road map for genuine economic success.

We must stop regarding elective office, political appointments or access to those in power purely as avenues to wealth and riches. We must distinguish "illegitimate success" from genuine success that is validated on the basis of its ethical foundations. This means that we must go back to our basics, starting with our school system; positioning our institutions of learning to build moral, disciplined and creative minds that would embrace the doctrine of "principled guided conduct and propriety as a way of life". This would empower them to harness the genius needed to unlock the immense but trapped potentials of our dear nation.

While programmes like the government's Youth Empowerment Scheme which had been referred to earlier have their merits, it is more important that the school system prepare our youths better for present and future challenges. Near estimates put our unemployment figures today at over 40million with 75 percent of that number in the youthful brackets. Now, how many of these figures can government directly or indirectly employ, given present revenues. This is why if we are to learn any lasting lesson from the life and career of Steve Jobs, the curricula of the school system, from primary to tertiary levels have to be reworked to bring the best out of their beneficiaries. If you doubt this, go and check out our public schools. The present and future health of a nation can be told from the state of the public school system. It is as simple as that!

Graduates from our school system are becoming increasingly unemployable and unable to create employment. The orientation from Day One is to look up to government and other employers of labour for employment. This implies that governments should not merely pay lip service to the School curricula but take concrete steps to ensure that the schools are structured and equipped to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st Century. How much of our budget is going to education? And how much of what is budgeted is actually committed? Jobs, as a young boy, benefited from the "after-school lectures" at Hewlett-Packard. Are there any such after-school places for our school children? What this simply implies is that our educational system must afford our youths proper training in vocations relevant to today's needs. Anything short of this is a waste of their precious time and creative energies, which is presently the case at great cost to the nation.

Anyiam-Osigwe is of the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation.


Last modified on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 12:36