Could Ashton Kutcher Be the Next Steve Jobs?
Dec 2, 2013 5:00 AM PT
I can hear the virtual voices screaming: "No, there is no way -- he isn't an engineer, he is an actor." Yet in a way, so was Steve Jobs. If you've read any of the stories about what he was like in person, you already know that at the start, Steve was a hippie who rarely bathed, cried a lot, and didn't like shoes. If you compare that Steve Jobs to his on-stage persona, it's clear that when he was pitching a product he was acting.
The Steve Jobs you saw on stage was effectively a guy acting, so why couldn't an actor who has those skills -- and even did a credible job playing Jobs in a movie -- be for Lenovo what Jobs was for Apple? I've argued for years this can be done.
I'll close with my product of the week: yet another tablet, the Nokia 2520. This one targets connected photographers.
Steve Jobs: Skills
Steve had a number of unique skills that helped drive him to be CEO of the last decade. I'm not talking about duplicating all of them because no two people will have the exact same skill set. Jobs knew how to balance the tension between engineering and design, and he could scare the living hell out of employees and suppliers to get performance and prices that others couldn't seem to find.
However, what I'm focusing on here is his ability to pitch product. He could get people to see stuff in a product that was largely in his imagination, but it would spread like a virus to his audience and from the audience eventually to the world.
I remember an early pitch I attended: We all walked out praising the event and talking about how wonderful Apple's products were only to realize later Jobs really hadn't announced anything. He'd just dazzled us with magic. There have been a handful of folks in the world who could grab an audience and make them believe.
Jobs learned how to do this during his pilgrimage in India studying some of the great religious leaders. From time to time, we see politicians step up to this kind of amazing performance. P. T. Barnum had this skill, as did Walt Disney. They could get you to see what they imagined -- and once you were in the dream, they had your pocketbook and you didn't care. Hell, you thought it was a good thing.
An Actor's Skills
While those folks have acting as part of their skill set, actors work on that skill set almost exclusively. Dan Lyons wrote in his Secret Diary of Fake Steve Jobs about Steve being replaced by an actor years ago. There's a funny movie called Bubba Ho-Tep (you have to be in the right state of mind) that fields the idea that Elvis did this.
The back story on this practice is rather fascinating. One actor who competed to stand in for himself lost, suggesting that we are incredibly easy to fool.
If someone could be trained to fool us into thinking he was actually Steve Jobs, how much easier would it be to train someone to emulate Steve Jobs' magic without having to be Jobs?
When I first heard that Lenovo was using Ashton Kutcher to pitch its new Yoga Tablet, I was a bit skeptical.
I'd seen him in number of movies and watched him on Two and a Half Men and thought him talented but not very influential -- not like, say, Oprah for instance. Then I thought about it. They weren't bringing him on board for his celebrity -- they were bringing him on board because he had demonstrated he could actually play Steve Jobs.
How much would someone who could get you to see a netbook with touch -- and now keyboard -- as the magical iPad be worth? Done right, this little move could put Lenovo into the competition for company of this decade. That assumes that Lenovo can execute reasonably well on product -- and given that it currently lead the world in PCs, it can.
It is an incredibly creative move -- but will it work?
I think it depends on how much time and effort Kutcher puts into the role. I maintain that part of what made Jobs incredible on stage is he really believed in the products. I recall him presenting when he first took over Apple, and though the fans liked him, the rest of the world yawned. It took a product that he drove and believed in to get the kind of energy needed to create the magic we saw with the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Kutcher won't be in Jobs' league unless he's allowed to get involved at the front end of a new product and thus is motivated to go that extra yard because he personally has some skin in the game. He isn't just a hired spokesman -- he becomes part of the creative process and becomes moved to protect his intellectual child.
Interesting enough, he actually was involved a bit with the Yoga Tablet, which is one of the most beautiful tablets in the market (and my product of the week last week).
I know Kutcher is one of the most successful technology investors among actors, I think he may actually have the chops to pull this off. He actually has a knack for picking winners.
Wrapping Up: Recreating Steve Jobs
In the end, if Lenovo and Ashton Kutcher pull this off, they will have showcased that you can take a successful CEO, much like you can take a successful sports figure -- or actor, for that matter -- and train someone to do at least part of what that individual did to achieve similar success.
This lesson could go a long way to ensure that best CEO practices actually outlive CEOs, something that generally doesn't happen today. Thus a successful company model that is dependent on a star CEO could live on. This is an incredibly important lesson for companies that have that problem, like Apple.
Product of the Week: Nokia Lumia 2520
This second generation of Windows RT tablets is actually pretty nice. I'd been living on and off a Surface 2 tablet before the Nokia Lumia 2520 arrived, and I found it far superior to the first generation. One thing that is kind of nice, given that I live on Windows 8.1 anyway, is that you don't have to learn a new interface.
In fact, since my phone right now is a Nokia Lumia 102,0 moving between products is actually rather pleasant. Since I mostly live in the Kindle app when I'm not in Office, it is interesting to note that the Kindle App on Windows 8.1 is actually better than on anything but the Kindle itself.
Amazon, which is headquartered close to Microsoft, clearly has an affinity for this platform. However, the two things that make this tablet stand out are 1) It uses the Snapdragon 800 processor heavily to create what is the best photo-editing product in market; and 2) It is only available connected to a WAN network.
On the plus side, this means it is always connected. On the minus side, this means you have to manage another wireless contract, but both Verizon and AT&T (the two U.S. carriers that have it) have bundling plans, making the result more palatable.
Ideally, I see this for someone who has a Nokia camera -- particularly the amazing 41 megapixel 1020 -- and wants to edit the pictures on a larger screen. Having both products connected makes the transport of the picture through SkyDrive seamless, and you can immediately post something more edited, but still real time, on the Web.
The Nokia Lumia 2520 is a well-differentiated tablet targeting people who like to take pictures, and it is my product of the week.