Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


David slays Goliath

Q: Not every product the Apple CEO has introduced has been a hit. So what accounts for the aura of incredible success that surrounds Steve Jobs? Why don't others who are possibly just as successful become cult figures like he has?

Steve Jobs is a David who has slain his Goliath. Apple took on Microsoft and won in the eyes of Jobs' followers. He went up against the biggest in the world and walked away with a better deliverable. This is step #1 for achieving cult status.

Jobs provides a unique product that is (a) elegant in design, (b) simple to use, and (c) redefines the marketplace (e.g., 42 million iPhones sold). This is step #2. No small feat.

Step #3 is the clincher. Rather than being driven by commercial success (though he certainly relies on it), he is driven by a vision of the future that he consistently midwifes, realizing his progress in tangible products. His followers may marvel at his market dexterity, but they become true believers as Apple consistently, systematically brings the future to life in their hands.

Cults are, by definition, not mainstream. If Apple becomes the default, the cult mantle will slip from its founder's shoulders to be picked up by the next David. That said, Jobs is not about being a cult leader. He is about realizing the future. And that can be done without religious adherents.

By Seth Kahan  |  February 1, 2010; 12:03 AM ET  | Category:  Aura of Success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I think that Jobs' personal mystique is based on two considerations. 1) He created Apple, Apple dismissed him and withered and languished in the doldrums, he returned to Apple and presided over its resurrection, he brought it to the cusp of knocking Microsoft back on its own ground, Jobs then redirected Apple towards new areas of growth while Microsoft, now a dowager, splutters resentfully. 2) His brush with death, and continuing personal vulnerability, make him a heroic figure in the classical mode.
In a nutshell, the managerial and productive genius, combined with the compelling personal narrative.

Posted by: mschweitzer | February 1, 2010 12:42 PM
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