The Jobs, Jackson parallel

Much has been written about Steve Jobs already after his untimely death. Another celebrity who has been posthumously in the news is Michael Jackson, due to the Dr. Conrad Murray trial. I was recently watching the taped recordings of his final days showing his preparation for the “This is it” tour where his music director for the show talks about Michael’s penchant for perfection and detail, how he knows every bit from his records, every note, every tempo, and how he wants them to be just so in the reproduction for the stage.

Listening to all that, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel with Steve Jobs who has been famously associated with his attention to detail and undying urge to do every little bit right. Steve apparently fiddled with all aspects of his products, from early prototypes to colors on the inner wiring to layout of the factories. You could similarly see Michael detailing the various nuances for the production. Such as the various cues for his music entourage to pick up from his antics on the stage. Every pause and transition perfectly timed, allowing the audience to sink their teeth (or ears) into the music, letting them wait with anticipation for his trademark moves. Steve was every inch a showman as Michael. He is known to have meticulously rehearsed his gigs on the Buena Vista dance floor, perfectly choreographed for maximum effect. If only he could moonwalk as well!

Thinking through this further, Steve was unique in his ability to marry art with technology unlike any of his contemporaries. He had this unrelenting belief in combining hardware and software for best overall results, controlling every bit of it himself. Now it is par for the course to talk about user experience and “beautiful” technology. But not long ago,he was in the minority.Michael was similar although in his own way. He was unique, in his time at least, to marry music with video like no one else had contemplated before, while he controlled every aspect of the product, tightly integrating audio and video. While it would have been tempting to let someone else do the video, he realized how treating it as a single product will enhance the user experience and he was dead right. Nowadays, artists of any ilk dish out music videos and we never pause to think how it all started. Just like Steve, I’m pretty sure Michael wasn’t the first to produce music videos. But he took it to a whole new level that raised the bar for the industry.

No doubt, there are some dissimilarities as well. Ever the minimalist Jobs was probably the perfect opposite of the extravagant Jackson. Jobs was compulsively secretive and protective of his personal life and also of his body or the products he produced. It is said that he refused surgery to remove the cancer in the first instance because he couldn’t imagine someone prying into the perfect package that he is. He applied the same philosophy to his products. On the other hand, Michael’s life was stuff from reality TV and I wonder if there was any part of his body not altered by a surgeon’s prying scalpel. Finally, while Steve believed drugs almost gave him a new perspective on life, sadly it’s the same drugs (albeit not the exact same one!) that ended Michael’s life.

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