Role Models, Innovators, and their Peccadillos

0515MEM_cover-no boxHaving had the opportunity to get to know many Apple Inc. executives during the early and often tumultuous years of the Macintosh, it was with some anticipation that I downloaded to my iPad the new book, Becoming Steve Jobs, as soon as it became available.

This newest book on the Apple co-founder comes across as the antithesis to the celebrated 2001 book, Steve Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson, who cast the Apple guru as a mercurial and cantankerous genius. The new book, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, two journalists who have long covered Apple and have access to many company insiders, paints a different psychological profile of Jobs. While they admit to some early bouts of combustion, the authors focus on a more mature leader who was open to the talents of others. It comes as no surprise that Apple wholly embraced this book’s version of Jobs.

The brilliance of Jobs is undeniable and has never been in question. At least not since those early days when the relationship between Jobs and then-CEO John Scully was at the boiling point. The turmoil surrounding Jobs’s penchant for doing his own thing eventually drove him out from the company that he had helped create. His return, years later, led to Apple’s incredible renaissance and to its current position among the world’s top companies.

But the new book’s preoccupation with hallowing Jobs disturbs me. Jobs is one of the great innovative minds and transformative figures of our time and will be revered as a great technology visionary. There is no reason to try and remold his personal peccadillos posthumously. Calling attention to Jobs’s evolving maturity rings defensive and diminishes him.

I’m all for celebrating innovators—for what they do more than for who they are. Here at ASME, we honor technologists every year who have contributed to the profession and to humankind. We even created an exhibit, some years ago, called “Heroes of Engineering,” which featured a collection of famous engineers who contributed to some of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. They included Michael Owens, who owns the patent for the automatic bottle-making machine; the Wright brothers; Garrett Morgan, who invented the gas mask; and renowned inventor Dean Kamen.

In this issue we focus on the work of innovators rather than on the individuals themselves, and we found our inspiration for two of our feature articles from Mother Nature’s gifts of air and water.

In “Shape Shifting Target,” Michael Friswell details how researchers working to optimize commercial aircraft efficiencies are watching the morphing wings of birds for lessons on how the wings of aircraft can be optimized for better performance. In “Go Fast With the Flow,” we move to water flow, from air flow, as John Martin tells us how world-class swimmers shave precious seconds off their race times with the help of an engineering software program that’s typically used in industrial applications.

The unsung heroes may well be the engineers who work behind the scenes with great technology, and also the role models and mentors who go unnoticed, but setting your sights on becoming Steve Jobs is not so bad either.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

May 2015

Twitter from John Falcioni

Twitter from Engineering for Change

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