Steve Jobs: The Thomas Edison of Our Generation? Examining The Analogy
October 19, 2011
The untimely death of beloved Apple founder & CEO Steve Jobs earlier this month spurred a slew of articles comparing him to Thomas Edison, not to mention Henry Ford and Walt Disney. Jobs himself listed these men amongst those who inspired his work.
The New York Times made the comparison, along with BBC’s World Have Your Say, which invited Edison and Ford Winter Estates President & CEO Chris Pendleton to contribute to the program as a guest panelist (image below) during an hour-long international broadcast.
While there is no denying the impact both Edison and Jobs had on modern culture, does this analogy hold water? You decide:
- LEADERSHIP: Thomas Edison famously surrounded himself with “muckers:” an intelligent, hard working crew of critical thinkers. The Edison muckers provided a think-tank of great minds. Jobs emulated this style of team throughout his career.
- EMPHASIS ON RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Both men invested and relied heavily upon research and development to provide new technological breakthroughs. Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory was in many ways a prototype for the type of research and development department Jobs would later utilize.
- ACHIEVING THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE: When Edison first premiered the phonograph, the device seemed so implausible to some listeners that they believed he was a well-trained ventriloquist. Twentieth century consumers were similarly stunned by innovations like the early Apple personal computers and later, the iPod and iPhone.
- CULTURAL INSIGHT AND IMPACT: Both Edison and Jobs played a part in dramatic shifts in twentieth century culture. Edison helped to shape the music and motion picture industries that Jobs, in turn, influenced almost a century later. Similarly, Edison was involved in the creation of modern communications industry which Jobs later revolutionized.
- INNOVATION ACROSS MULTIPLE FIELDS: Jobs impacted the computing, technology, telecommunications, and entertainment industries, amongst others. Edison’s sphere of innovation extended even further, touching dozens of different industries including those mentioned above, as well as botany, electronics, chemistry, mining, and the cement industry.
- SIMPLICITY OF DESIGN: Jobs famously refined the designs of a variety of products, from cell phones to mp3 players. Edison also appreciated simplicity of design, continually reworking products to be simpler and more efficient.
- WORLD-CLASS MARKETING MINDS: Edison and Jobs both understood and mastered the crucial role of marketing in releasing innovative new products to the public.
- PATENTS: Jobs held over 300; Edison, over 1,000. Edison’s friend and winter neighbor Henry Ford, to whom Jobs has also been compared, held more than 100 patents.
World Have Your Say visits Naples and invites Edison and Ford Winter Estates President & CEO, Chris Pendleton, as a guest.
Want to know more? Read Inventing the Century by Neil Baldwin (available in our Museum Store) for an in-depth look at the cultural impact of Edison’s inventions. Or check out our recommended reading list.