By Jim McCarthy Oct 6, 2011 0 comments

We’re a Little Worse Today

Julius Caesar was a genius.  Not just a regular, work-on-really-complicated-rocket-stuff-for-NASA kind of genius.  He was the kind of genius who understood that the Roman Republic was corrupt, spent, and about to be vulnerable to outside domination if it didn’t get fixed fast.  Fortunately, as the greatest military AND political mind of his generation, he took over the Republic as a dictator and began a rapid-fire series of reforms, almost all of which worked.  The Republic got better and it got better quickly.

Of course, this didn’t sit well with everyone, and he was assassinated in the Senate, as everyone knows.  To Rome’s great fortune, Octavian (who you probably know as Augustus) was as great a genius as Julius Caesar and when he took over, the Roman “Republic” (really an empire by then) kept improving, growing and getting stronger.

Then things took a turn for the worse.  Tiberius followed Augustus, and he was a terrible Emperor.  Caligula followed Tiberius, and well, madness ensued.  Caligula went so far as to attack the Mediterranean Sea with a legion of soldiers to show that he had defeated Neptune.

The moral of the story is that some people are special.  When Julius Caesar is leading your army, you don’t ask “how do we make more of him?” because you never will.  Surely, he inspired people and created models that got repeated and followed, right up to this day, but that doesn’t mean you can duplicate him or gin up an army of clones.  You don’t ask ‘how do we make sure the next emperor is as wise and discerning as Augustus?” because he won’t be.  That’s why our founders here in America (another set of un-repeatables) were smart enough to know that if we built a system that relied on finding a “special” person to make everything work, we would be screwed.  Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams, among others, happened to be there in one place, with one goal, when our country was being founded.  That was an immense stroke of luck.  If every president had to be Thomas Jefferson for America to succeed, we’d have never made it through the Madison administration.

Because special people of that kind are extremely rare.

Yesterday, we lost one of those people, and there’s no way to replace him.  That kind of genius doesn’t scale.  My career is in roughly the same field as Steve Jobs, and I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of stuff: some of it good, some of it stupid.  There are so many intelligent, hard-working people in the “tech” business that it’s an honor just to run with these people.

But.

He was the very best of us.

If there were a club made up of Steve Jobs and his peers, it would only have had one member: Steve Jobs.  Even guys with epoch-making accomplishments and enormous egos concede this point happily.

Yes, he left a legacy, and there’s plenty you can learn from Steve Jobs that could make you a better person, a better business executive, a better entrepreneur, a better designer, but…

Make no mistake.  We’re a little worse today than we were yesterday.

Caesar is dead.  Long live Caesar.

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