Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fearless Genius

Can you guess to whom the title refers?  It is someone who can honestly be called a household name, Steve Jobs.  Where would we be today, virtually speaking, without him?   The title actually comes from a book, “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley, 1985-2000”. It is a selection from the 250,000 photographs taken over those years in Silicon Valley by Doug Menuez. He has given the entire archive to Stanford.

We heard Menuez speak the other night at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe. He is an award winning documentary photographer who has photographed from the North Pole to the Amazon and the Sahara desert, covering subjects from sports to AIDS and famine. He said that when he was looking for some less harrowing experiences he began to focus on Silicon Valley.  He asked Steve Jobs if he could have unfettered access to him and his development of the Next computer, the project he was then working on.  To Menuez’s surprise Jobs said, yes.

In 1985 Jobs was 30 and Menuez was 28, trying to find a meaningful story in his world.  He said, “I wasn’t interested in technology per say, I was — and am — interested in those people who possess this amazing ability to change all of our lives.”  1985 was also a turning point for Jobs:  he had been fired by his former mentor and CEO at Apple, John Sculley and he wanted to move on to a new electronic wonder, the Next computer.

To Menuez surprise he found Jobs “was just loaded with charisma. He was the most inspiring person I ever met. By the time I met Steve, I had photographed presidents and movie stars, and I’d had life-and-death experiences in Africa, and I’d covered homelessness and AIDS, but nothing compared to being with Steve Jobs and listening to him telling what was coming in the future. It was electrifying.”

Over the years “I could walk into his office at any time, go into virtually any meeting — occasionally the engineers would get upset, but Steve would always tell them to let me shoot what I wanted. It was amazing freedom.” According to Menuez, Job’s bad rep came from the fact that he was incredibly demanding of his engineers but most of them liked the challenges.  If he yelled at them he wanted them to fight back and state their reasons for their decisions and if they made their case he was cool with it.

The lecture was part of the events leading up to the Santa Fe Opera world premiere of “The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs”, composed by Mason Bates with a libretto by Mark Campbell.

At the Patina Gallery of contemporary Jewelry owned by Allison and Ivan Barnett, an exhibition of Menuez’ photographs was up.  They had been introduced to Menuez by Ivy Ross,  the jewelry designer whose work is in 12 International museums, went to Harvard Business school and is currently Vice President, Design and User Experience for Hardware Products at Google and head of Google Glass.

Allison Barnett & Ivy Ross

Ivan got in touch with the Santa Fe Opera since they had cooperated before, and the result was the use of Menuez’ photos for promotion of the new Jobs opera.  Ivan then arranged for the lecture at the Lensic introduced by Ivy Ross who held a question and answer session at the end.

During the Q and A Menuez mentioned some of his concerns and, for me, there were a couple of eye openers.  One was that 75% of the engineers in this country are immigrants.   Menuez also pointed out the contrast between Ross Perot’s infusion of 20 million into the Next computer and the current impatience of venture capitalists who don’t want to wait 5 or 6 years for their profits, but just 2.  This is enough time for a new app, not a technological revolution.

Menuez concluded with what still echoes in my mind Jobs’ quote, “NEVER GIVE UP - EVER”.

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