The Inventor Of the Future

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Diana Walker / Contour by Getty Images for TIME

Boston's 1997 MacWorld Expo listens to Jobs on stage.

Steve Jobs remade the world as completely as any single human being ever has, but he had no business doing it. He wasn't qualified. He wasn't a computer scientist. He had no training as a hardware engineer or an industrial designer. He had a semester at Reed College and a stint at an ashram in India. Jobs' expertise was less in computers than it was in the humans who used them.

If that were all he'd had, Jobs might have been a talented psychotherapist or maybe a novelist, like his biological sister. The genius of Jobs, and the paradox, is that while Jobs understood us completely, he wasn't like us. He was better.

Human minds dull. His didn't. It's a rule of thumb in the world of technology that you get to revolutionize one industry at most, but Jobs did it every few years with stunning regularity: computers, movies, music, phones. Unlike the rest of us, he didn't doubt himself, but his wasn't the arrogance of the narcissist. Jobs learned from his mistakes, which were many. As he would have put it, he iterated.

He became the most celebrated, successful business executive of his generation--in 2011, Apple's market capitalization passed that of ExxonMobil, making it the planet's most valuable company--and he did it all the wrong way. He didn't listen to his customers. Jobs liked to quote Wayne Gretzky: You don't skate to where the puck is, you skate to where it's going to be. (That Gretzky may never have said this makes it only more Jobsian: if Steve said he said it, then the Great One said it.) Jobs didn't crowdsource. He was the source.

Jobs will be remembered as a great man, but not necessarily as a kind or good one. His ferocity toward his employees is the stuff of legend: outside Apple, his products helped a generation think different, but inside One Infinite Loop, there was only one way to think, and that was like Steve. He did not suffer fools gladly--or at all. Unlike his contemporary and rival Bill Gates, he never made the transition from plutocrat to philanthropist. The perfection of the tools he made suggested both a deep empathy with others and also a raging aggression toward them: he would make things so perfect that we could not refuse them.

Maybe Jobs thought different because from the start he felt different. He was born in 1955 in San Francisco to a Syrian graduate student and his American girlfriend, who immediately gave him up for adoption. He was raised by Paul and Clara Jobs--Paul was a machinist who worked with lasers; Clara was an accountant--in Silicon Valley just as it was becoming Silicon Valley.

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