Andy Hargadon, a Professor at the University of California at Davis, just wrote a fantastic blog post that compares Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. Although there are many shallow comparisons of this kind coming out in the press, none are written by anyone who spent years studying Edison as Andy has done. Andy also worked at Apple as a product designer in the 1990s and still has connections to the firm; and in his book and articles often does a brilliant job linking the history of innovation to modern applied and conceptual problems. I couldn't help goading him to write something, and although he resisted at first, he couldn't help doing it -- he just knows too much about the topic. Here is his full post. And here is a taste:
How both men dealt with their very public failures is a morality tale far richer in their differences than in the simplistic connections between them.
Once ousted, both men jumped immediately back into the arena, intent on proving their detractors wrong. And both failed again. Edison returned to an earlier project, the phonograph, but would soon become embroiled in, and ultimately lose, another standards war. In 1985, Jobs founded NeXT computer, describing in a name his desire for redemption. Interestingly, both invested in new movie technologies (Edison pioneering moving pictures with a system of film, camera, and projector; Jobs investing in Pixar and the development of computer animation).
Here, at the end of their second acts, our two heroes faced their greatest challenges and, here, their paths diverged.
Edison kept roaming. Whether by temperament or temptation, he kept pursuing the next great invention, investing his and investors money in ultimately fruitless ventures such as magnetic iron-ore mining and concrete cast-in-place houses (both doomed by a toxic combination of huge capital costs and his well-known predilection for experimenting).
Jobs returned to Apple. Clearly the wiser for these experiences, he discussed publicly the lessons he learned from his original ouster from Apple and from the failure of NEXT despite its brilliant technology. Even brief conversations with former colleagues told me he had brought a new humility to the company’s innovation efforts. Gone was the effort to prove Apple’s technical genius, or inventive power.
Great stuff, make sure and read the whole thing.