Jobs and Gates at the D7 conference in 2007 (Asa Mathat photo)

In a recent appearance at the Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon, author Malcolm Gladwell provided some fascinating remarks about the role of entrepreneurs in society, drawing some interesting conclusions about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Gladwell called Gates “the most ruthless capitalist” until the day when he “wakes up one morning and says enough and steps down and he takes his money, he takes it off the table.” For that alone, Gladwell believes that Gates will be revered like no other entrepreneur of his era.

“I firmly believe that 50 years from now he’ll be remembered for his charitable work. No one will even remember what Microsoft is, and all the great entrepreneurs of this era, people will have forgotten Steve Jobs. There will be statues of Gates across the third world and … there’s a reasonable shot … because of his money, we will cure malaria.”

The author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference and Outliers offered some additional insights on entrepreneurs throughout the talk.

“We venerate entrepreneurs in our culture. They are our new prophets. Literally we worship them,” said Gladwell. But he quickly added that the greatest entrepreneurs are “amoral” because they are “completely single minded and obsessively-focused on the health of their enterprise.”

“That’s what makes them good at building businesses but that’s what also makes them people who are not worthy of this level of hagiography,” he said.

To illustrate his point, Gladwell retells the story of Steve Jobs who while on his deathbed refused an oxygen mask several times because he didn’t like the design of it.

“It was like making him send his final emails using Windows,” Gladwell said to laughs from the crowd.

Earlier in the talk, Gladwell called Jobs “an extraordinary businessman and entrepreneur” but also “a self-promoter on a level we have rarely seen.”

“Think about it, look, all of the things that made him a brilliant self-promoter, they overlap with what made him a great businessman, right? He was brilliant at understanding the image he wanted to craft for the world. What was brilliant about Apple? He understood from the get-go that the key to success in that marketplace was creating a distinctive and powerful and seductive brand, and he was as good at doing that for laptops as he was for himself.”

The portion of the talk where Gladwell talks about Gates and Jobs begins at minute 9:45 in the video below.

The entire video offers a fascinating discussion of entrepreneurs and their role in society, starting with Gladwell talking about the differences between Oskar Schindler and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad.

In minute 17, Gladwell talks about why entrepreneurs don’t really want to be first in a market, citing examples of Friendster in social networking and Alta Vista in search. He also adds that: “Jobs was never first. He was later to every single party…. and was quite happy ripping people off.”

In minute 20, Gladwell also says that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are not big risk-taking entrepreneurs, adding that entrepreneurs typically take “social risks” of enduring years and years of being a pariah. Fascinating stuff.

[Hat tip to BRW]

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  • Yawn

    Hahaha Malcolm Gladwell has always been a dunce. Apple and Microsoft will NEVER be forgotten because the birth of personal computing is of historical interest. More anecdotal evidence and newspaper reading level to popular topics.

  • Steve

    He meant to say no one will remember him.

  • K3

    Who among the 19th century robber barons is remembered today? Carnegie, Mellon, Vanderbilt – the ones who invested in the world they left behind. The rest are forgotten, no matter how much they invented or how much money they made.

    Jobs left behind only the things he sold which will all too soon be obsolete. Then how will we remember him, a man with no time for philanthropy and who only wanted to be judged by his latest design?

  • Stu Kushner

    Microsoft and Bill Gates have killed the PC industry. Take a moment to compare it to the mobile phone industry. Both have competitive hardware platforms. Both have multiple carriers for data communications. But where cell phones have multiple operating systems and possibly millions of apps is where they both differ. Microsoft has killed innovation. There are zillion programmers around the world that avoid Windows because it is too hard and too risky to work on. Los, where is all of that pent up creativity going? That’s right… Mobile apps. Microsoft needs to get split up. And any operating system that they abandon should be public domain. If the US wants to create a boost to the economy and productivity and create millions of jobs… kill Microsoft.

    • Will

      Steve Jobs spent his last few years doing nothing but suing(out trying to) every other phone manufacturer out there. He didn’t want any competition, even if it was good for everyone. The only difference between Gates and Jobs is that Gates had much more time to build his monopoly. Jobs would have done the same if he could.

      • Maventwo

        Yes, the future belongs to GNU/Linux and other types of open source software.

    • Guest

      Take a moment to do some basic research of early PC history and then avoid making a fool of yourself in future.

  • Te66

    Who will remember Malcom Gladwell in 50 years?

    • chrimux

      Who knows this person now?

      • Maventwo

        I´am very fond of Malcolm Gladwell´s book The Tipping point because it tells basic thing about a lot of drastic things that happens from how virus infect to how the crowd buys new things or not.
        And how the people change their behavior.
        Malcolm Gladwell´s book The Tipping point have been a titel which now is used by speakers who want´s to express that something new is coming to change society.

  • Kevin

    I wrote this to a friend who forwarded this article to me:

    I am familiar with Malcolm Gladwell, and I am also familiar with
    writers whom have no credibility saying outlandish things to grab headlines.
    Gladwell is a social psychologist—not a technologist. Gladwell was speaking
    towards Gates philanthropic efforts, to which he should be praised, but to say
    that one day Steve Jobs will be “forgotten” completely discounts his efforts in


    He also said in 50 years. That’s ridiculous. Lord
    willing, my life expectancy will be in that gauge. Will I forget Steve Jobs? As
    long as there are technological innovations that have an Apple on them, Steve
    Jobs will be seen as a Henry Ford for the most valuable
    company on the planet in the early 21st century. Also, I think
    Jobs will be seen as the father of the tablet, just as Ford was seen as the
    father of the mass-produced car no matter who makes them a hundred years later.
    I will one day ask my 51 year old daughter who Steve Jobs is, she will respond,
    and I will ask her who Malcolm Gladwell is…unless she has read The Tipping
    Point in our family library, she will have no idea who he is. J


    Gates is a very generous man. But I think the world will never
    forget who gave us this…


    And I also don’t think we can forget Malcolm Gladwell to whom The
    Register Called “…a guru
    for the brain dead.”

    • Maventwo

      Another interesting thing about Malcolm Gladwell is that he who is professional writer dislike the development to less interest in reading printed papers and books.Malcolm Gladwell express that he is the person who shall enlight the crowd but dislike that the crowd will more and more enlight it self.

  • Nospam

    Glad well, coulter and Dvorak get good copy. Making an outlandish statement brings attention. But it’s more likely people can make statements like this and Gladwell will never be remembared, not jobs. But yes I agree in a hundred years, well probably not remember either of them

  • Guest

    He’s probably right about Gates. Between his own giving, the work in Africa, and then all the others he’s convinced to pledge their fortunes too, it’s impressive and likely to assure his place in lasting history. Gladwell is definitely right about MS, though that could happen much sooner than 50 years the way things are going. I’m not sure people will remember it 20 years from now. However, I don’t think Jobs will be forgotten. Over the past decade he pulled off the biggest turnaround and upset in business history. That alone will ensure some lasting remembrance, even if it’s restricted to business people.

  • shockme

    Who is Malcom Gladwell and will I still remember him 5 minutes after closing this browser window?

  • Jason

    You should write Comedy more often, it suits you.

  • Guest22

    I hope it’s true that people 50 years from now will reflect and analyze this period of time based on more than bank accounts and how many people stood in line to buy a product that would only be good for a year until the next version came out.

    I’d say that Microsoft and Google are both worthy of being “epoch” making companies — And Gates’ role within and outside of Microsoft are 1000x more interesting than any other player in the Industry.  Basically, the World could use more Gates’.  It would be a better place (with the exception of IE).

  • Nelson Guedes

    Charity work? Which charity work? The guy is spreading GMO death and corporate control of resources across the third world. The guy is going to murder these people, not save them. One needs to go no further the Frances Lappe books to see the evidence.

  • the long view

    crew, stop being such defensive apple-msft-fanboys and look at the long-tail of history. whether it is 50 yrs or 100 yrs, his basic premise is right: humanitarians are remembered because they have lasting multigenerational impact. entrepreneurs come and go (even though we all love them at the time).

    we use inventions every day that are extremely important to our world for which very few can name their inventor, promoter, or origin (e.g., resilient wheat, aspirin, radio, etc.)

    • AdamChew

      To leave a footnote in history takes more than money for a cause and nothing can delete the ideas a man leaves behind.

      • Ayn Rand’s nemesis

        Ayn Rand? Is that you?

  • Tricky1_380

    “Jobs was never first. He was later to every single party…. and was quite happy ripping people off.”

    Ummmm, while it’s true that Apple has, and continues to copy, and stolen many an idea, it’s patently false that “Jobs was never first.” as far as innovation goes.

    Gladwell is either misinformed, or has a selective memory when it comes to computer history.

    • Guest

      He probably means the most recent three: music, mobile, tablets. All of which they were late to but ended up redefining and taking hure share.

  • gseattle

    BillG sits on 60 billion while people in his neighborhood are strapped with tolls and even higher taxes for a new bridge down the street from his home leading from Seattle to M$oft, which is responsible for a large percentage of the traffic there.  Instead of burdening his community with tolls and higher taxes, if he simply bought us a new 520 bridge, easy for him, THEN he would be loved.  Instead, most of what he does give away goes outside of the community of people that made his vast wealth possible. 

    • Guest

      Made his vast wealth possible? Who would that be? Redmond employees? Scores of partners all over the world that sold the products? Similarly broadly distributed customers who bought them? Investors from around the globe?

      Bill doesn’t owe you a new bridge. And he;ll be remembered for his good deeds long after your whining has been forgotten.

      • gseattle

        Maybe everyone who ever waited in that traffic plus their friends, family, associates, neighbors and pet parakeets.

        He doesn’t *owe* the community anything, that’s not the context.  Instead it is whether he wants to be remembered long-term with fondness, appreciation, loved.  The extra mile (1.44 actually).  Tackling malaria is a good thing, don’t get me wrong.  On the other hand, someone can enjoy correcting me if I’m wrong on this one, his wealth has gone up, not down, since he began giving it away.

  • Lapin7

    Never heard a dumbo speaking like this.

  • DrK

    Gladwell is obviously not as smart as his relentless self promotion efforts would have you believe. Every creative person unleashed by Apple’s and Job’s brilliance will remember Steve, tell stories of how he touched our lives, and will keep working to make the world better. Gates will be remembered for fear lies and disinformation, for investing in Monsanto and using his monopoly to stop any real innovation. But both will be remembered. Gladwell, not so much.

  • Abcdchchch

    Gladwell is one of the biggets demagogues out there.

    • Maventwo

      But his book The Tipping point is very interesting because of his explanation of that virus and human behavior as crowd is quite similar.

  • Eric Reiss

    I really object to Gladwell’s basic suggestion that you cannot be both a good businessman and have moral integrity, too. You might get richer by being a sonofabitch, but you can still get rich and remain a decent person, too.

  • leicaman

    Think about it. Nobody is going to remember Gladwell. He obviously resents the fact that Steve Jobs actually succeeded in a way that contradicts Gladwell’s basis premise for success. 

    People will remember Jobs for his ability to bring all the elements together and anticipate what consumers want before they even know they want it. Bill Gates will be remembered for being a ruthless businessman who then turns 180 degrees and works to destroy a whole host of diseases and illiteracy, amongst many other things.

    Either way, both of those men a the antithesis of Gladwell’s self-aggrandizing nonsense.

  • Michael Mitsakos
  • matts

    ha! Bill gates is not a visionary. never was. “philanthropic” efforts to vaccinate the world and advance genetically modified crops for big agribusiness believing that’ll solve world hunger are pathetic, and blatantly ignore real problems and real solutions. The Microsoft tech he unleashed on the world in the last 30 years is pathetic, and so will be his philanthropic “visions” in the next 30 years.

  • Maventwo

    But me who is very fond of Malcolm Gladwell´s book The Tippint point because his book is very analytic and explain that virus infections and human behavior develops quite similar especially when it comes to changing behavior in front of new technologies and when new stuff are introduced to the market.
    I think that Malcolm Gladwell´s book says more about changes in society than the german philosopher Thomas Kuhn´s expression the Paradigm shift about changes in the society.Because the book The tipping point do a lot of research in how other types of infections work from virus to human behavior.

    But Malcolm Gladwell dislike the development of less interest in reading printed papers and books.Because of he still think that the crowd shall be enlighten by journalists and professionals.
    Malcolm Gladwell do not think that the crowd can be enlighten by it self!

    • Your Parents

      Google Translate is your friend

  • Kaipa

    I wonder if this debate is necessary. Firstly, It is not fair to compare people working in different flelds. Steve Jobs was a creative genius. I wonder how many of us will remember Leonardo Da Vinci. Do any of us know any of the philanthropists of his era?

    Let’s not judge. The philanthropic work of Bill Gates is good and let him do it and continue doing it. Let’s not compare these two giants and pass comments. Not worth it coming from an author or repute like Malcolm Gladwell.

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