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Innovation Above Litigation

For better or for worse, American culture is defined by extremists. We are fascinated by criminals and geniuses.

Sometimes they are one and the same.

Look at Steve Jobs. Brilliant innovator. And as numerous reports have suggested, and as we’ve heard over and over again, he believed “the rules just didn’t apply to him,” (biographer Walter Isaacson, in the New York Times.)

In plotting to prevent Apple employees from working elsewhere, Jobs was a blatant white-collar criminal. And his power, and influence, stretched much further in the industry. As the New York Times reports, in effect Apple and others established a management culture within which employees – on threat of firing or banishment from the industry – learned that obedience to the company doctrine was blind, regardless of the law.

“In 2007, he [Steve Jobs] threatened Palm Inc. with patent litigation unless Palm agreed not to recruit Apple employees….That same year, Mr. Jobs wrote Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google at the time, ‘I would be extremely pleased if Google would stop doing this,’ referring to its efforts to recruit an Apple engineer.

“Mr. Schmidt forwarded the email, adding…: ‘I believe we have a policy of no recruiting from Apple and this is a direct inbound request. Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening? I will need to send a response back to Apple quickly so please let me know as soon as you can.’

“When Mr. Jobs learned that the Google recruiter who contacted the Apple employee would be ‘fired within the hour,’ he responded with a smiley face.” New York Times, May 2, 2014

Edward Snowden is an innovator as well, but he has decimated U.S. national security through his actions. Why did he turn? 
According to the Vanity Fair story that came out this month, Snowden had once been proud to work for the CIA. According to VF it was Snowden who said:
“They’re like WikiLeaks…. They’re reporting classified s**t. Who the f**k are the anonymous sources telling them this?….HELLO? HOW COVERT IS IT NOW? … THAT S**T IS CLASSIFIED FOR A REASON.” 
But then he worked for the CIA in Geneva, and saw agents get someone drunk then use that information to turn him into an informant. (And other incidents.) This seemed immoral and turned him off.
He also got in trouble with his boss’s boss – for being good at his job.

“Snowden resigned from the C.I.A. The circumstances remain in dispute….Snowden gave his version to the Times in an online interview: while angling for a promotion, he had gotten into a ‘petty e-mail spat’ with a senior manager over flaws Snowden had discovered in the C.I.A.’s human-resources software.

“His immediate boss told him to back down, but then allowed him to test the system. Snowden said he altered some of the code in an attempt to highlight the software flaws; his boss signed off on it, but the senior manager became ‘furious’ and took his revenge in the unflattering personnel comment. The incident convinced him, Snowden says, that trying to work through the system would lead only to reprisals.” Vanity Fair, May 2014

In life it is not always clear what is right and what is wrong.  Some of Tyler Perry’s movies innovatively ask the same question over and over: What is morality really? How do you know? When is it right to break the rules? How do you recover when you’ve made a terrible mistake?

Perry has transformed his own pain through art. I think he is trying to understand how people can act so incredibly bad: His own father who beat him so badly he tried to kill himself and he was molested by a friend’s mother and several men.

In Perry’s Good Deeds breaking the rules is the right thing to do – walk away from everything and start fresh. In Confessions of a Marriage Counselor it’s wrong and life-destroying.

The question is what do we as a culture do with people who break the rules. How do we use their gifts, while preventing their excesses from destroying themselves and others?

We haven’t answered that question yet.

* All opinions my own.


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