THE PASSING OF STEVE JOBS
I never met him, but I knew him.
As an early adopter of Apple Computer products, I was one of the disregarded orphans in the corporate mainstream. When I would go to business tech seminars and trade shows, vendors would show their newest systems and at the end of each pitch, they would admit it would not work on Apples. And those vendors had no plans to port their software because Apple users were considered a niche market of outcasts, misfits, non-conformists and bit players in the computer world who played around with silly toy machines. It was like being put at the kids table at the party (but the grown-ups failed to realize it was better to have fun in the background than cursing at the blue screen of death in the foreground.)
Twenty-five years ago, Apple Computer or Steve Jobs were not widely loved or cherished by the general public. One had to be predisposed to go against the current; to question the status quo; to challenge authority; to adopt a Cause. The struggle was simple as black is to white: our operating system is better than your system. The weapons of mass confusion were misinformation, corporate purchasing policies and applications. The battlefield was in the hearts and minds of the general public. The Apple followers were dismissed as rebels, radicals or a cult. The infamous 1984 Super Bowl ad for Apple was the pinnacle moment. It did not win the computer OS war, but it did put Apple into certain creative sectors, like advertising and graphic designs. Then it slowly pushed into the education market, converting the children who would later evangelize their parents to buy a personal computer for the home. It was when the home computer market took off with the strange teardrop iMac line that the tide turned - - - a powerful, easy to use machine, with a stable operating system and enough applications to meet the needs of every family member. The public did have to Think Different to convert to the Macintosh way.
It is ironic that Jobs was kicked out of Apple on the cusp of the Macintosh era only to return to turnaround the company from near bankruptcy a decade later. The MBA board room culture that came in to run Apple to the next level had no idea what the Apple culture was or what Apple meant to its core followers. Those MBAs wanted to increase sales of existing product lines rather than take chances with innovation.
You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - - - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. - - - Steve Jobs
The American Dream is defined as the freedom and opportunity to succeed, or to fail, and to have second chances. Jobs not only lived the American Dream he created part of it. When highly paid executives ask their employees to think outside the box, Jobs had the vision to actually create the magical Box in the first place. People still dismiss his technical knowledge or talent (even though he had more than 300 patents to his name) because of his icon image as the best gadget show man on Earth. He did invent the many products we use today, but what he and his teams could do was make products or ideas in near perfect function and form. He did not invent the personal music player, but he helped create the simple, small, easy to use and powerful iPod. He created the synergy of the iPod to the simplest form of music purchase: the iTunes store. Together, that linked combination transformed the music industry. He did not create the mouse or graphical user interface (GUI), but he perfected it so that it is now the gold standard for computer operations. He was the visionary who could combine science with art.
What new Macintosh converts would soon realize was they suddenly possessed a powerful tool to have the freedom to do things for themselves. Letter writers turned into desk top publishers to web page designers to internet bloggers with picture, movie and podcast production and editing skills. It would inspire people into careers of graphic design, art, computer programming, game development, science, business applications, and education. If one empowers the masses with tools of personal discovery, it inspires an individual to form their own opportunities . . . their own American Dream.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced the only thing that kept me going was I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. - - - Steve Jobs
To say Jobs was a classic A personality could be an understatement. Once he left Apple in what he considered a corporate coup (how can a founder be fired from his own company?), he continued to attempt to create the Next greatly insane product. Other people may have banked their wealth and retired at the ripe old age of 30 or so, but there are entrepreneurs who have that DNA drive them to continue to push the envelope of change.
There was another irony that Apple is stronger today because Jobs was forced out of the company. Jobs learned a valuable lesson that he had trust in himself and his own vision. He created Next to push a new computer operating system (which later would turn into the foundation for OS X and the iOS systems). He had to surround himself with the best people, and lead them to their best work. As luck would have it, a sale of the Lucas Filmworks' computer graphics division fell through, and Jobs was offered the opportunity to buy it. He found the division filled with Ph.D.s on the cusp of bringing high tech tools to the entertainment industry. But the division was bleeding red ink and it was unknown whether the merger of technology with the art of storytelling would even work. He was convinced by the vision of these dedicated pioneers and created Pixar. The rest is history; Toy Story was the first full length computer generated animation and a huge box office success. But as with Jobs' other endeavors, the engineers and artists at Pixar did not rest on their laurels. They continued to push the technology to new limits, like the complex equations and rendering to realistic fir in Monsters, Inc.
From a pure personal wealth stand point, Jobs made more money when he sold Pixar to Walt Disney than he has made accumulating Apple stock. Jobs had instilled a corporate training program at Pixar that set the core philosophies and principles of the company as it navigated the realms of ground breaking science discoveries to support the end product, the best entertainment and story telling vehicles they could produce. This same culture was instilled with his return to Apple with its Apple University facility. The Jobs method of product development is what his lasting legacy could be at Pixar and at Apple. Time will tell if his followers will succeed to the same level as his career.
For every home run product, the iPod, MacBooks, iMacs, iTunes, the App stores, iPhone and iPad, there have been disappointments to failures (Lisa, Newton, the Cube, eWorld, MobileMe.) In some respects, the idea was just ahead of its time. Example, today social media and web communities are the centerpiece of the digital lifestyle. Apple had its eWorld community of devoted fans, but the cost of infrastructure doomed its financial viability. The idea of the Newton, to have a handheld computer contact, information and note taking device, is now embodied in every smart phone, iTouch, iPhone and iPad. But one can see that for every set back, Jobs used it as a learning experience to create even better and more desirable products for consumers.
Jobs has been compared to the Great American businessmen: Edison for invention, Walton for retailing, Ford for new methods of manufacturing and design. Jobs had the ability to look into the future, then bring that future to the present in a form that people could understand and use. Jobs was an optimist. He was a believer in the power of technology. He was also a believer that a person given his technology could use it to better his life and the lives of others. Example, no one thought anyone would buy an iPad. What does it really do? But once people got a hold of them, they were inspired to use it in ways Apple never thought of: in hospitals to take the place of record charts; in schools to teach interactive lessons; in corporations to distribute reports and presentations. People love the aura of having the Star Trek universe in their hands.
In a different century, he may have been called an outsider, a dreamer or even a dangerous character. In the early wake of the Industrial Revolution, there were pessimists like H.G. Wells who saw a bleak future of conflict, atomic bombs and nuclear disasters caused by the power of new technology in the hands of the naive human race. Wells saw the new industrial age and its technology as part of the evolution, devolution and ultimate fate of the dystopian future of the human race. Since Jobs was such a private person, not too much is known about whether he ever had negative thoughts about the world he was helping to change. But he did think about one negative a lot during his lifetime: death.
I read a quote that went something like If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly will. It made an impression on me and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and ask myself: If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been No for too many days in a row, I knew I needed to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make my big choices in life. Because almost everything - - - all external expectations, all the fear of embarrassment, or all pride, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. - - - Steve Jobs in 2005
It is a morbid, sad, personal value he kept in the forefront of examining his life on a daily basis. This was his belief well before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. With the initial diagnosis, he was given the three to six month life expectancy to get his affairs in order. A further biopsy showed a rare and possibly treatable form of cancer. Instead of sitting back and taking it easy, Jobs was more motivated than ever to push himself and his company to through the next frontiers. It is reported that at his death, he had at least four years worth of development laid out with his product teams. He had also surrounded himself with talented executives capable of continuing on his vision for Apple. He continued to break the mold. In one of his last official public acts, and while he was on his last medical leave, he went to the Cupertino city council to present his new corporate headquarters plan, a space age mother ship design for his new HQ campus. He spoke glowingly about how they had developed the technology for the large curved glass outer window building shell. His mind and the drive to find a way to implement wild ideas into reality never wavered as his body began to fail him. He died peacefully at his home surrounded by his family. A icon that was known throughout the planet as the face of Apple, but also a deeply private person who guarded his family from the public spotlight, was put to rest without any public funeral or official memorial.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And it is as it should be, because death is very likely the single, best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. - - - Steve Jobs
The world knew Jobs was dying. But when the news hit, people still felt surprised and saddened. It is rare to know you lived in the same era of someone who will go down in history as one of the pilots directing the sea change of modern technology.
Great men do not need to be told that they are great.
Their actions speak louder than words.
Celebrities, politicians, hawkers, barkers, people looking for 15 minutes of fame are all distractions to fill the void of time in a day. Icons, artists, inventors create a change in time itself.
The world paused for two days to reflect on a man at the center of the personal computing revolution. He may not have gone to college, but he was smart enough to know talent when he found it. He was not an animator, artist or movie mogul, but he kept a small company of dreamers together long enough for Pixar to become Pixar. And with his health concerns and medical leaves, he kept his loyal employees at Apple to continue on as Apple.
Business schools may teach a course on the genius of Steve Jobs as part of his legacy. In his wake, he left us with a few core, entrepreneur values that many of us should heed in our daily lives:
1. Cash can leverage more than a leverage company asking for credit. When Jobs returned to Apple, he vowed he would never let the company run short of cash for operations ever again (a Microsoft loan during the dark times saved the company). Cash was an effective tool to keep control of your own destiny.
2. Be counterintuitive. In a basic sense, look to take out features rather than add them to make the final product better. Apple's growth has been remarkable considering the past decade has yielded stagnant wages and declining global economic environment.
3. No compromise in creation of high end products. Jobs' quality control and tyrannical desire for the cutting edge innovative, sleek, simple to use products kept Apple at the top of the premium provider of consumer electronics. People now know Apple products. People want Apple products, some without even seeing them. The consumer loyalty base developed under his tenure is something few companies have ever achieved let alone maintained.
4. The retail setting should be a consumer experience. When one walks into an Apple store, they are walking into a new arcade filled with cool things to touch, use and experience without buying one. It is not just a store, but a destination. Apple stores are the most profitable retail centers for that very reason.
5. See the future and bring that future to the present. This is something people have to be born with; the eye to see things in different lights. To ask the hard questions to find hard solutions, and to not give up until the answer is clear. Visionaries take what some people think is fantasy and bring it magically to tangible reality. No one has mastered the merger of science and aesthetics of art in creating an entire museum of technology breakthroughs than Steve Jobs.
I never met Steve Jobs, but I knew him every time I picked up or used one of his Apple products, or saw a Pixar movie. Setting the bar at its highest level, then meeting that expectation with each try is a very difficult thing to accomplish. Most people would never even attempt such behavior. We would wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting. Like Steve Jobs.