Dream of being your own inventor, not the next Steve Jobs

PEOPLE love inventors. That may be one of the main reasons the death of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs is being felt so keenly around the world.

Obviously the real loss, is to the 56-year-old's family and friends.

Companies continue to operate but loved ones can't be replaced.

Some commentators have suggested we will never see the likes of a Steve Jobs again. Sure, he had a great many ideas crammed into one brain, but invention is going on every day in millions of homes and businesses, as it always has.

When you see a film of chimpanzees using a stick to draw ants out of an ant hill for food, that's invention. When you see sometimes ridiculous ideas on TV programmes such as "Dragon's Den", exported now from the UK to dozens of countries, that's just chimpanzees in suits presenting to other rich chimpanzees.

An image of Steve Jobs is seen on the Apple homepage, inside the store in Manila on 6 October 2011. Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

Dan Farber at CBS summarised

Jobs this way: "He was not an inventor in the classic sense, tinkering with program code to create the Worldwide Web or tinfoil to reproduce sounds on a phonograph.

"Jobs was more of an orchestral conductor, charismatic and dictatorial, assembling the people and pieces of existing and emerging technology to craft an object of desire that reflected his personal aesthetic and vision for how people and machines should interact.

"It was an expression of American individualism, buoyed by the kind of self-confidence that insists on pursuing a personal vision regardless of the risk."

Beyond any theory on American exceptionalism, let's not pretend Steve Jobs wasn't a capitalist. His ideas were for products and ways to market them, and millions of people around the globe have never and will never have the funds to buy such objects, let alone the electricity with which to run them (obviously they're not able to read this article either).

There are inventions that make a difference, designed to feed need, not greed. Downloading music or being able to take photos in sepia tones from your phone, aren't covered by "need".

Consider the example of the so-called "Waterloo Pump", a relatively inexpensive water pump made from PVC developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada in the late 1970s. Taking a simple idea from Mennonite farms, the pumps have since been used to supply clean water to almost a million people in 13 countries.

Even this week, India unveiled the "world's cheapest tablet computer", aimed at giving access to students in small towns and villages. It might not cost as much as an iPad or be as "cool" as the brand, but it may bring practical benefits. So do we credit Steve Jobs for bringing us the original iPad, or the people who developed an affordable alternative so everyone could try out touch-screen technology?

This isn't a criticism of Steve Jobs. He was a brilliant inventor and his ideas have changed the way many of us inhabit the digital world.

But there are bound to be ideas out in the most poverty stricken parts of the globe of how to make their own lives better. They are ideas that will not materialise into shops with glass staircases, or ideas that will plug into every set of ears on a bus, and the lives those ideas might save will never be given global obituaries. But they have merit.

Part of any drive to improve equality is about equality of opportunity - having the food and clean drinking water that allow you to dream up the big ideas.

And it's not just whether we're offering tax credits or start-up grants to new inventors, young or old; it's what encouragement we're offering to young people in particular to dream big, to have the drive to make those dreams a reality, and to not lose heart when the dream doesn't go as planned.

The majority of inventions never change the world, not on a scale such as the iPod or iPhone have in many ways. But ideas are still worth having.

I have ideas all the time, especially for the news business. I don't have money to deliver any of them but I'll still keep coming up with ideas because I'm a daydreamer.

We can all daydream and imagine big ideas, and encourage each other, not laugh each other down. Because any of us could have the next great idea.

We might never has as many ideas or patents as Steve Jobs did, but that's no reason not to dream.

I've written this piece on my MacBook — so Steve Jobs has had an influence on my life, by giving me the same opportunities everyone should have: the chance to dream big.

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Updated Date: Dec 16, 2011 11:49 AM