By now you all know that Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. I’m not writing an obit (there are already a gazillion others) but I do want to express some thoughts on why I believe he is so special.
The obvious – Steve Jobs is the Thomas Edison of our generation. The personal computer was ushered in by him and Steve Wozniack, and I believe is an invention every bit as important as the light bulb. Also, get this – both men invented devices that forever changed the way we listen to music. Edison invented the phonograph and Jobs, the iPod. The genius of Jobs goes further still – there’s something about buying and owning an Apple product. You somehow feel like a better person for owning one. Not easy to do with consumer gadgets. So, in that way, you can sprinkle in some Gottlieb Daimler also. To me, even the obit page on Apple’s web site is cool. Completely identifiable with Apple and Steve Jobs.
The not as obvious – Steve Jobs had a unique management skill set that allowed him to run a startup and one of the world’s largest companies. That’s a really small club – like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos small. There are others on that list but it doesn’t go on a long time. If you’re in a startup and you’re afraid you’ll be forced out at some point, it’s OK. In fact, it’s pretty arrogant to think that you won’t be forced out because if that is what you think, you are saying you belong in that club. Maybe you do, but you’re going to have to prove it.
The economy changer – There was a time when the cool product designs came out of Japan, period. Sony was the leader of the pack. Steve Jobs yanked the mantle of design leadership from the Japanese and brought it home to Cupertino (I visualize Napoleon coronating himself French Emperor in 1804). In a way, Jobs’ rise to design preeminence is eerily reminiscent of Bobby Fischer vs. the Soviet chess juggernaut. One man took on an entire economic system geared toward his defeat and kicked their butts. In the end, sheer genius, tenacity and chutzpah won.
My one gripe with Jobs – I don’t think he ever fully (or even partially) embraced gaming as a legitimate computer use. That’s why I’ve never bought an Apple computer since I left college. I like games, and Apple OS doesn’t run enough of them. Apple also doesn’t support SLI (scalable link interface which allows you to daisy chain multiple graphics cards). Consequently, Apple continues to be a third-rate gaming platform on the PC level. That’s a longer topic for another post.
Rather than mourning the passing of this business and design prodigy, for the next few days, I’m going to think about the times I have been blown away by the products of Jobs’ genius- the first iBook, the original Macintosh, the Mac Cube (I liked it but no one else did), the Mac Mini, the TiBook, the iPhone, and, of course, the iPad. I don’t know if he was a good guy or not (he was married with three children so I imagine he was an OK guy), but man he could invent stuff that I loved. I can’t wait to read one of his biographies when they start being published next year. I’ll bet we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can learn from him.