A few days ago Bloomberg accidentally released Steve Jobs' obituary (note: this link has both the obituary and the writer's notes). When this happens, the person that has been prematurely declared dead gets a chance to see how the world views them after he or she is gone.
I imagine it can be an interesting experience, and there is a fascinating list of 13 of the folks (unfortunate number) to whom this has happened.
Perhaps the best known is Alfred Nobel, who was called the "Merchant of Death" in his obituary and created the Nobel Prize as a result.
Analyzing the Obituary
Steve Jobs' obituary clearly doesn't paint him in such a negative light, but it also seems to showcase a distinct lack of friends and co-workers who would speak for him. In addition, for a guy that seems to go out of his way to upset Bill Gates, it is kind of interesting that Jobs gets the only truly positive statement from Bill.
This statement makes it look as if Bill Gates thinks more of Steve Jobs than Steve Wozniak does. Wozniak basically says Jobs was the guy who wanted to make money, wanted to make products that changed the world, and wanted to be in the class of Shakespeare and Einstein, but he never says these goals were achieved, except the money.
What is also interesting, in this case, are the reporters' notes (which to my knowledge have never before been made public like this). They indicate a long list of people were to be contacted, but none was willing to comment while Jobs was alive. Even Wozniak's and Gates' comments are pulled from the public domain.
I've participated in the building of early obituaries for a number of people, and it is a typical practice to get these comments beforehand so the obituary can go up immediately upon notification of death.
Given that Jobs' health problems are public knowledge, it is interesting that no one was willing, for whatever reason, to share thoughts about Jobs while he is still alive. Granted, given the early publishing, not providing a comment, if it were going to be negative, appears wise.
But, overall, the obituary paints the picture of a man obsessed with wealth and unable to reach the level of greatness to which he aspired. The normal text that conveys a good human being -- loving father, caring husband, good friend, etc. -- is nowhere to be found.
In a weird way, in speaking from this pseudo grave, he appears to be talking to his fan base when he is quoted as saying, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped in dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking." Even or especially if that "other person" were Steve Jobs himself?
But is this the way Jobs would want to be remembered? There is no depth. It paints him as largely money-motivated and mostly self-centered. He doesn't even get direct credit for the Mac; the piece implies he took the idea for Apple from the Beatles. Where are the accomplishments that he would want to be remembered for? He only really gets the Apple logo and name, which I doubt he thinks are that important.
The Problem of Management Through Fear
I don't think this obituary means he didn't do anything great. I think it means people are afraid to talk about him while he is still living -- even for an obituary. I think this may showcase this as a problem for him to solve if he wants to be remembered in more depth and given credit for some of the things he thinks he should be remembered for. I doubt it will make him more philanthropic (Bill Gates clearly had a life-changing moment some time ago) because that isn't the way Jobs is wired. But it might have him reconsider just how frightened of him so many people close to him appear to be.
He could go two ways; he could work to become a better person by relying on fear less often as a management tool, or he could simply order his PR people to find a way to fix the obituary, but that probably wouldn't protect against unprompted comments or retractions after his death. And I think he is smart enough to know that. I believe he will do both things.
So, in the end, while the premature obituary may not have the impact on Jobs that it did on Nobel, I expect a positive outcome. In any case, it isn't often we get a chance to see how we will be remembered and assess whether that is how we'd like to be viewed. It's probably something that should happen to a few more people -- a certain head of state comes to mind -- more often.