The story most people tell each other about Steve Jobs is that he was an overwhelmingly positive and productive force for Apple during both of his tenures. And that his absence between those tenures was a travesty; The company should have never forced him out.
This story is a fallacy.
When Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple, he had introduced two computers - the Lisa and the first Macintosh - that were both generally flops in terms of sales. One of the reasons was that Jobs wanted to push the envelope with both machines, putting out the very best experience money could buy - regardless of exactly how much money that meant the consumer would have to shell out.
In other words, Jobs knew what consumers wanted in products, but not in price points. He excelled at reserarch and development, but did not quite grasp market dynamics.
Of course, once he was ousted and the “suits” stepped in, they didn’t do so well either. It turned out they were decent businessmen but lousy innovators. Go figure.
When Steve Jobs finally returned to Apple, he was not the same Steve who had parted ways with it nearly 15 years before. He was older. Wiser. He had watched Microsoft put “a computer on every desk in every home” - despite the fact that these machines were inferior. Why? Because Microsoft understood market dynamics. They understood that the right price mattered.
So when Steve returned, sure, he consolidated SKUs and put out great products. But he also, importantly, evolved his core principles to view the market as a force he had to work within, not preach to. He made important compromises to ensure his new products were priced appropriately. And he embraced external ecosystems; he made the iPod compatible with Windows, moved to Intel processors, brought the Office suite to Mac, and much more. To young Jobs, this was essentially treason.
For the modern founder or business strategist, the lesson here is that there is no monolithic Steve Jobs. There are at least two - The one who almost killed Apple, and the one who came back and saved it. Be careful which one you idolize or emulate.