Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


How many Steve Jobs does the world need?


I’ve recently watched both recent Steve Jobs movies (Steve Jobs, Jobs) on planes, trains, and automobiles (okay, just planes).

This got me thinking, how many Steve Jobs does the world need?

You can imagine that if everyone in the world was like Steve, neurotic eccentric visionaries, the world wouldn’t function so well. For every Steve, there needs to be many, many Frank Smiths who do as they are told, obedient workers who get things done.

Of course the degree of “visionary-ness” is not binary, it’s a sliding scale where some people are crazy visionary while others are not so much. There are other traits that determine one’s ability to succeed and/or be of value to society.

While arguable, my mental model tells me that leaders and those who are higher in the organizational pyramid need to be more visionaries. If a Walmart clerk is a visionary, he or she really needs to be in a position to exert more influence.

So what’s the appropriate ratio between the Steves and Frank Smiths of the world?

Obviously, there is no fixed number, but phenomenology might point us toward an answer. Dunbar’s number is a social science theory that states that people are generally able to maintain stable social relationships of about 150 people. One of Dunbar’s argument is that historically, there have been many organization that formed organically to be around 150 people, such as military units (companies in the U.S.) and nomadic villages.

When Steve Jobs resigned from Apple in 2011, the company employed about 60,000 people. Microsoft was probably in the same vicinity when Bill Gates stepped down, but both companies now employ over 100,000 people. Obama leads over 4 million US government employees, Einstein probably didn’t work with much more than few assistants.

Ok, industry and context matters heavily, so finding that ratio may not be so easy.

It seems that these days, everyone wants to be Steve. No one wants to live a secure but boring life of Frank Smith. We all want to be visionaries, inspire, and change the world in one way or another.

This is not going to work.

I don’t know when it became a bad thing to be Frank Smith. While I never lived in the 50s and 60s, but it was probably okay to be normal back then, and a lot of people lived, normally. They say that we don’t want to live same way our parents do, and if so, is this a pendulum that swings back and forth between Steve and Frank? Will the generation that follow look at how unhappy Gen Y yuppies are and conclude that they want a more stable life?

Will we make movies celebrating Frank Smith?


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