…I need to write it down.
I’ve never worked at Apple.
I didn’t know what it was like to use Apple’s early products.
I didn’t own anything from Apple until 2007 and that was an iPod. I still have it.
I wasn’t one of the first to buy a Mac and I still don’t own one today.
I didn’t realize till much later that it wasn’t one, but two men who would elevate the humble mouse from a rodent to something special; Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.
Of course Steve Jobs didn’t stop there. I won’t go into a litany of his achievements. They are well documented and I suspect they’ll find themselves imprinted on the minds of students and ardent followers of innovation and leadership for years to come.
This is about what Steve meant to me.
I’ve always collected icons. People with qualities I aspire to emulate. I like knowing the ideal, even if it is unattainable.
As I watched the 2007 Keynote (which remains one of my favorite videos), I was awestruck by his command over the audience and his content. His eyes had an intensity, softened only by the pride and happiness in the lines surrounding them as he unveiled his dearest baby, the iPhone. It was also amusing how he made sweeping statements with absolutely no sense of irony or apology. “(The iPod) didn’t just change the way we listened to music, it changed the entire music industry.” He meant it. He believed it. You don’t get to such blatant confidence without conviction in your work. That was the first thing I learned from him. It’s easy to sell your work if you believe in it.
As he proceeded through the session I was impressed by the simplicity of his presentation and storytelling. The story was paramount. He sold the inconvenience of keyboards and the stylus with the touch of a master storyteller. A master storyteller doesn’t just have the audience eating out of their hands, they make the audience believe the story. The pejorative “mactard” refers to anyone locked into Apple’s mind-bending forcefield of loyalty. I think that’s extreme. People buy into Apple because of the stories they weave in the relevance of their products to our lives, and Steve had a big part to play in building that image. I have tried to imbibe a sense of story into everything I do at work thanks to that 2007 keynote.
I remember my first experience with the iPhone. My brother was coming home from the US so I asked him to get an iPhone for me. I promised myself to be objective in its evaluation and in my reaction to it. All that went straight to hell when my brother handed me the box. Simple, beautiful. I took out the phone and plugged it in. The screen lit up softly with an image of the earth and a gently luminous box at the bottom saying “Slide to unlock”. It was just so simple and beautiful. Nothing about it was ostentatious. It had the quiet assurance of a friend helping you out with a tough exam. Nothing on the box or the phone screamed a sense of over-achievement. Just a classy, polished, been there-done that-trust me look. And behind that veneer of class and simplicity hid marvelously complex innards, applications and functionality. But we didn’t need to know all that. Because we were supposed to use it, not lie awake at night marveling at the complexity of the processor or how the apps were coded. I had been stuck in a trap at work which affects so many who work with numbers. The innate need to demonstrate the complexity of a solution by sharing the technique. This would result in charts full of incomprehensible numbers, complicated diagrams and lofty sentences. None of my clients cared. The iPhone taught me why. I promptly changed the way I presented analyses, always couching complexity inside a clean, simple story arc that anyone could follow. I haven’t always been successful in that endeavor but I try hard every day. I owe this to Steve.
After the iPhone I was thoroughly intrigued by Steve. I read up on him and was astounded at the trials he faced all his life, overcoming them only through sheer determination and the will of a fighter. Here was a man thrown out of the company he started. I can’t think of too many things more devastating than that. It’s like your child disowning you. He rallied on, started Next, launched an ambitious new computer which may have failed but which featured innovations he would reapply at Apple. Oh yes, Apple. After kicking him out, Apple had pursued a path of steady decline, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy at one point. Apple’s board asked Steve Jobs to consider moving back and he did. He moved right in and transformed the company to the intellectual and design behemoth it is today. Pancreatic cancer hit him in 2004. When I watched my first keynote in 2007, he was already battling it. And yet, there was that intensity in his eyes. As rumors swirled of his ill health, treatments, transfusions, transplants, at least one thing never changed in his public persona. The intensity in his eyes. His body wasted away but that fire in his eyes never waned. He was a fighter and he fought hard for the things he believed in. That, above all means so much to me.
There are many other qualities he will always be known for. The most important among them is being a visionary. Someone with an intuitive grasp of how technology can change lives. I suspect his arrogance wasn’t because of a cavalier disregard for the opinions of consumers but from a conviction (that word again) that technology is one of those untamed monsters who don’t evolve in a straight line or fit a neat little curve on a powerpoint chart. It’s a vibrant beast, one which he understood very well. I can’t emulate his sense of vision and I don’t think I’ll ever find another icon who can.
I know some think it’s silly to get so sentimental about public figures and celebrities. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. Some people allow us the guilty pleasure of living vicariously through them. Others set standards for how a life should be lived. Steve Jobs was the latter.
I will miss you Steve, because now I will never know what else you had cooking up in that brilliant brain or which new challenge you were reducing to embers in the quiet fire burning behind those eyes.
I’ll allow myself this sadness because I deserve it.
Shine on you crazy diamond.