Talk about bad timing. Yesterday, I received the unsolicited e-mail (spam) on the right for a webinar that promises to teach me how to be insanely great in front of any audience, just like Steve Jobs.
Yet at the same time, I was being flooded with lots of analysis informing me what I already knew: Last Friday, Steve Jobs was not insanely great in front of an audience of hand-picked journalists, bloggers and fanboys.
The event once more demonstrated that, despite the mythical skills Apple and its vendors have to develop and engineer great products, create brilliant advertising and deliver a great retail experience, Steve Jobs & Apple still adhere to a form of public relations (or whatever it’s called these days) that is rooted in the belief that “the media” and “the message” are things that can and should be “managed.” How they responded (or, for three weeks, didn’t) to the iPhone antenna situation reveals, despite their mythical strengths, they have a mythical weakness; an achilles heel.
The Friday fiasco displayed also that when the management of “the message” doesn’t go according to the way “they” want it to go, they stop being insanely great and just start being insane.
It’s really hard to blame them. Apple fanboys (and despite my denials, I clearly am one) have done all we can to prevent Apple from developing the skills necessary to respond to the type of skepticism and negativity every other company or cause must face on a daily basis. Steve Jobs & Apple, because they have such loyal fanboys and tech-media lap dogs, have never had to actually “pitch” a story like every other company or cause has to do. They don’t “pitch,” they decide “who” gets “what.”
Because of that, when in comes to responding to hostile or skeptical media coverage, Jobs & Co. seem to be like a presidential contender who’s been able to skip the primaries and go straight to the general election — missing all the vetting and the hundreds of debates that help to surface any weakness or issues of concern, providing time to develop the skills necessary to respond to any situation. Jobs demonstrated what I’ve never seen him do in front of an audience: He not only lost his cool, he lost his charm.
He was a like an arena rock star who can’t perform acoustic. Jobs — as the spammer believes — is a rock star who is insanely great when in front of any audience with a remote control in his hand. But Friday made it clear he hasn’t developed even the rookie skills necessary to play in front of a hostile crowd who start booing (even though no one actually did on Friday, at least in the room).
As I indicated in my post last week, I agree with Apple — I, too, don’t believe Apple has a hardware problem. But that’s not the point: It should be clear to even the company’s most ardent supporters, Apple’s response to this entire situation is a major problem. Like Nixon and Clinton and a parade of others should have taught us by now, it’s more often the response to a -gate that brings one down, not the -gate itself.
Of course, most fanboys have responded like Apple wanted them to: Defending the iPhone’s integrity and praising Jobs for being passionate — or, as one blogger has characterize it, “He’s not arrogant, he’s an artist.” My response: He has perfected the art of arrogance.
Anyone who has raised a child can recognize the behavior Steve Jobs displayed last Friday when he started describing articles in the New York Times and Bloomberg as “a crock” and “bullshit.” It’s called, “being spoiled.”
Fanboys have spoiled Apple. By making excuses for him like “it’s okay for him to be arrogant because he’s an artist” you are saying “the rules that apply for everyone else, don’t apply to you.” But you’re lying. They do. And one day, because they’ve always been told to “forget what they’re saying, you’re perfect,” you discover they start acting as if they really believe they have a free-pass to do whatever they want, and respond however they want: that the rules everyone else must follow do not apply to “artists.”
I’ll continue to sing praises of Apple products — I have a post nearly ready about a great iPad app I’m using — but I will never let my love of those products and my admiration of the artistry of Steve Jobs interfere with my ability to recognize a train wreck when I see one. Other fan boys should help Apple out by doing the same.
Later: Dave Winer suggests this shouldn’t be my last word on this subject (and he’s likely correct) and continues to provide the kind of advice Apple should listen to — but probably won’t.