Steve Jobs and the Virtue of Failure
Winston Churchill famously said that “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” What Churchill didn’t say, but was evidenced by his life, was that ‘success ‘is often an inevitable outcome of maintaining a positive attitude and dogged persistence in the pursuit of one’s goals, even through hard times.
Another example of early failure followed by success was British Prime Minister and statesman Benjamin Disraeli, who, in 1825, attempted to bring out a newspaper, The Representative. The venture was a flop, and ruined Disraeli. His debts incurred from the debacle would haunt him for the rest of his life. In spite of this early setback he went on to become one of Britains greatest 19th century leaders.
If ever there was a modern day industrial American hero, Steve Jobs has been crowned with the title. Upon tendering his resignation as Apple CEO last week, one could have thought that the Wall Street Journal observed seven days of mourning, with as many tributes and accolades published on successive days in its pages. No doubt well deserved, Jobs has revolutionized our world of modern consumerism. As Nick Schulz wrote for the National Review Online, “Jobs gave people products they didn’t know they wanted, and then made those products indispensible to their lives.”
But it was this point, highlighted by Schulz, that provided real grounds for inspiration; the virtue of failure. All Jobs’ success he writes, “Were made possible by failure after failure after failure and the lessons learned from those failures. Jobs failed better than anyone else in Silicon Valley, maybe better than anyone in corporate America. By that I mean that Jobs did what only the greatest entrepreneurs can do: learn from their failures. I don’t mean learn from their mistakes, I mean learn from their abject, humiliating, bonehead, epic fails.”
For many Israelis and Israel observers who have been frustrated by a succession of political fiascos this message should be comforting. The Oslo Accords, the Wye River Memorandum, Withdrawal from Lebanon, Gaza and the Philadelphi route, misdirected priorities and communication incompetence are certainly ‘humiliating’ and ‘bonehead.’ Yet as Schulz concludes “Steve Jobs is a reminder that failure is a good and sometimes necessary thing. And that sometimes the greatest glories are born of catastrophe.” We have seen the catastrophe, now it is the time for the glory.
To some degree Israeli society has learned from its past failures and polling continuously reflects this. The popular climate has turned away from sweeping territorial concessions and unilateral gestures, even if the Palestinian Arab leaders were prepared to come to the table. Among those doves that still favor a Two State Solution the demilitarization asterisk remains as a product of the Oslo debacle. In Israel it is widely perceived that the current rocket and mortar crisis is a failure that directly resulted from Israel’s withdrawal policies and Israelis will fight against making the same mistake. After all, politics can’t compete with collective common sense.
It does seem however that some leaders in the Holy Land have been quicker to learn from failures than from their successes. Retrospection may come naturally on the heels of defeat, but it is of course just as important to appreciate the components of successful ventures and learn to apply them accordingly.
Israeli successes include the decimation of nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria, self-assured, targeted military action during the Six Day War, at Entebbe and through Mossad operations around the world. Additionally, the employment of shrewd, articulate and talented spokespeople as representatives, and principled consistency in conveying positions to the international community has worked well.
It is precisely because of past failures and successes that Israel’s leaders should be best equipped to deal with the challenges of today, and the Israeli’s who have lived out the ramifications of each move are learning, and growing wiser. Appreciating the lesson of Steve Jobs, those who are concerned about Israel’s future can breathe somewhat easier.
This is not however a matter to be taken for granted as much vigilance and attentiveness is required. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “my great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”