At WWDC, Think WWJD: 'What Would Jobs Do?'

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When entrepreneur and former Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs was alive, people, at least publicly, could not say enough nice things about him.

Seems to me that few had the guts to challenge the man's many personal and professional flaws when he was alive.

Of course, before the county even mailed out the official death certificate to Jobs's wife, the media pounced on the sizzling details from Walter Isaacson's excellent biography. They called Jobs a "jerk." Some even referred to him as an "a**hole."

We all knew Jobs was a "jerk" when he was alive, but we were too busy enjoying all of the great ways he changed our lives to say anything about it. Once the guy dies, all bets are off -- we turn on him faster than the media shifted gears on Facebook ( FB).

All of a sudden, it's Tim Cook's company. AAPL permabulls tell those of us who refuse to forget about Jobs that we overstate his role in Apple's success.

Gone, Disrespected and Already Forgotten

In one of the most glaring examples of urination on a man's grave, Gene Marks of Forbes not only had the nerve to compare himself to Steve Jobs, but he did it while the body was still warm, just five days posthumous. Marks opened his piece with the flip line: In case you haven't heard, Steve Jobs passed away. He continued:
I am not creative or brilliant. I work hard. But I like my vacations, my time watching my kids play sports, the odd nap on a Sunday afternoon too. I don't think I'm anywhere near as hard a worker as Jobs was. And I'm not a jerk like Jobs was. Which is the biggest reason why I'm just a moderately successful business guy, and not a super billionaire ...
I'll never be as brilliant as Steve Jobs. But if I were to exercise a little more control over how our products are used (in other words: be a jerk more often) I may be a tad more successful

What a pathetically simplistic analysis.

Marks happened to read what we already knew -- Jobs could be a jerk -- and instantly assumed that Jobs disliked vacations, spending time with his kids or taking naps. But, even worse, he goes on to equate his own apparent lack of success, relative to Jobs and other more "successful" people, to his inability to "be a jerk more often."

How self-aggrandizing.

Why do I bring this up about eight months after the fact? Fair question.

Just into Apple's Worldwide Developers' Conference, all eyes are on Tim Cook, as he looks to follow up his excellent performance at the All Things D conference. All of us, particularly AAPL investors, live in pivotal times at the macro and micro levels, particularly in technology and new media.
  • TheStreet will be live-blogging the WWDC keynote, starting at 12:30 p.m. EDT on Monday:
  • At Apple, the next six months might end up the most important timeframe in the company's history. If nothing else, they'll likely go a long way to answering the question: Can Tim Cook sustain the company Steve Jobs built?

    To answer that question, you cannot ignore Jobs' impact. You absolutely have to make critical attempts to understand how he operated and, in turn, how he helped Apple soar to dominant heights. It's less about WWJD ("What Would Jobs Do?") and more about what he left behind.

    If you uncritically believe the key to Jobs's other-worldly success hinged on "being a jerk," you better take profits on your shares now because, by all accounts, it's difficult to find a nicer, more well-liked guy than Tim Cook.

    If you take Marks' fast and loose leap of illogic seriously, you might wonder why we have so few true game changers like Jobs among us. Anybody can be a jerk; that's often the easiest way to conduct yourself. It's no wonder more folks have not picked up on the jerk equals "super billionaire" recipe.

    Obviously, I am being sarcastic. Marks could not be more wrong. It's all good, though. He just probably should have waited until the ink was dry on the funeral program before stating his opinion.

    I recently had the opportunity to talk to a great entrepreneur, Pandora ( P) co-founder Tim Westergren.

    Westergren admires ( AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos. When I asked him about Bezos, the first thing Westergren said was, he's not a jerk. In fact, he labeled Bezos "humble" and noted that talented people "like to work for humble leaders."

    Interestingly, Westergren, by all accounts, is the complete opposite of what most people would consider a "jerk." He and Bezos must have slipped through the cracks. Maybe Tim Cook will as well.

    Who Will We Remember?

    I got to thinking about this whole thing after reading what the usually ultra-insightful Malcolm Gladwell, had to say in Toronto last week. In a nutshell, Gladwell argued that because Microsoft's ( MSFT) Bill Gates dropped business for philanthropy, we will remember him in 50 years, not Jobs because, well, Jobs was a jerk that we put on the entrepreneurial pedestal for too long.

    Brian Caulfield at Forbes did a nice job of shooting down that insanity on Friday. I add just one thought: It's too bad Jobs could not have lived another decade or three. He just might have made a similar transition. Most people do not complete their life's work in 56 years, let alone actually realize all that will comprise it.

    Life, and the way humans function psychologically as they stumble through the more emotionally driven aspects of it, is painfully complex. Based on his incredible work, it seems Gladwell should know this. I am not sure about Marks, but really all it takes is an attention span and a few undergraduate psychology classes to figure it out.

    We have seen the same type of unfortunate oversimplification Marks gave us in the hours after Jobs' death probably thousands of times since. It's not only horribly sad that we live in a society so obsessed with discounting, diluting and knocking down legends, it's a dangerous game for investors.

    Tim Cook might succeed at Apple. He might fail. The result will likely shift between the two extremes and settle somewhere in the middle. I have my opinions, but, obviously nobody knows how it will play out.

    I think I know this much, though -- we err in a major way if we view the incredible challenge Cook has ahead of him out of context. No matter how badly you want the dream of a dominant Apple to live on, you cannot remove Steve Jobs's lasting impact from the equation. That's a recipe for investing disaster.

    If you don't have, at the very least, a basic understanding of Steve Jobs, you have no idea what made Apple tick. If you have no idea of what made Apple tick, you'll never notice if and when it loses its way. Instead of making informed decisions with your money, you risk making emotional ones. That rarely ends well when investing in stocks.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

    At the time of publication, the author was long MSFT and P.

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