To be honest, I don’t want to admit that I care that Steve Jobs has passed away. I don’t want to allow yet another stranger in my life to influence me to the point of feeling regret or sadness. Two days ago I was able to not care so much, maybe because I was focused on trying to cheer my wife up, since it clearly affected her. Maybe it was just that I was so tired that I didn’t let it affect me. Maybe it was even that I was focused on the pilot episode for the new American Horror Story series. But mainly, I don’t want to admit that I mind his passing because some part of me doesn’t want to be part of the trend… but the reality is that unlike other passing brands and things in life, Apple in its core achieved success because it wasn’t necessarily about trends or fads… it was about life and making things easier, more fun or just cooler. Behind Apple there might have been a chorus of minds jamming away and coming up with brilliant things, but there was only one conductor, one true frontman. Steve Jobs.
Reading the barrage of tweets, posts, articles and facebook wall posts as well as listening to people comment around and away from the water cooler, it seems that everyone has their own reason for lamenting the loss. People considered him a visionary, a legend, a hero even… but when you hear people talk about him, I really do think that a vast majority considered him a distant but very real friend; someone who understood what you wanted; someone whose mere influence made life a bit better even. Unlike MySpace’s Tom Anderson, who was a default friend on your profile and ignored by everyone, a lot of people WANTED to be friends, meet, talk with or just interact with Mr. Jobs. He was a hell of a business man, a pitchman like few others and was able to build a small company into a behemoth, and not just once either.
While many success stories have various chapters, few times does it include someone revisiting an old chapter or overlapping territory… From 1976, Steve Jobs took Apple to the top and in 1985 he was ousted, quite publicly, as has been mentioned in many places. Naturally he was hurt, confused and lost for a time, and then he saw the light. This wasn’t a catastrophe, it was an opportunity. It was at this time that he created the foundations for Pixar and NeXT, two companies that might have struggled initially but who eventually became blockbusters in their own right. He had come back from the entrepreneurial grave, but in 1997, he was faced with an even more interesting twist… NeXT was bought by Apple, the same people who had fired him 12 years prior and who were tanking horrendously. After he came aboard again, the iMac was born, a commitment to quality and style that gave a big “up yours” to personal computer standards at the time, since they weren’t being designed to satisfy companies… they were being made to satisfy people.
From then, Apple has grown back to be the 600,000 pound gorilla it used to be, except it’s had a makeover and apart from packing a punch, it looks like a million bucks… or a billion bucks if we want to near what yearly revenues achieve nowadays.
But let’s go back a step. Steve Jobs helped make Apple… then Apple fired him, then because of chance, he was put at the helm again. The curious thing isn’t that he accepted the job; it was that instead of duplicating original results, they were exceeded. He put aside his pride and focused on what he did best and never looked back, reconnecting with his baby and nurturing Apple back to health. Actually, that sounds super sweet, in reality he did manage to oust the Apple board members who would have been problematic and put himself at the helm, but before those moves, I suspect that at some point he probably had some second thoughts, but he threw caution to the wind and said let’s do this, because this is mine… and he took it back.
An adopted kid who dropped out of college, Steve Jobs lived life the way he managed his company… always choosing quality versus quantity. Whereas other companies cut corners to reduce costs and be competitive, Apple focused on giving you what you wanted how you wanted it. Are Macs more expensive? You bet your ass, but how many people do you know who regret buying Mac or switching sides? I’ve always been an analog kind of guy, listening to music on CDs rather than an iPod or any of the other ho-hum MP3 players in existence. Apart from being hardheaded, the reason I’ve been so reluctant to buy iPods is because I’ve heard way too many horror stories of iPods dying and whole libraries being lost… that was my safety net to maintain my analog paradigm… so of course they had to create a cloud based software, thus eradicating my fear of loss and putting a severe dent in my lifestyle, and inviting me to change for the better. I used to record music with a tape recorder, now I’m starting to use Garage Band.
This is happening not because I’m conceding to a trend, but because being practical and accepting help to achieve comfort and realize my dreams is part of the whole Apple Mantra in no short part due to Steve’s commitment to quality versus quantity.
While reading his 2005 Stanford commencement speech for about the 8th time in my life, something peculiar happened, the song Don’t Go Away by Oasis came on my headphones. True, it may not be the best song in the world, but it was curious that instead of having it as background noise while I ground out another project, I listened to the lyrics and choked up a bit as I read text written by him. I’ve read the commencement speech at least 4 times since Wednesday and truth be told, I’m going to try and read it once a month just as a written reminder to be foolish.
From all the things that have been said about Steve, one resonates a lot… he always followed his gut. Through thick and thin, instead of relying on analysis, market research, test groups and all the nonsensical crap we’ve come up with to try and guarantee success, he did what everyone should do with their work, he measured it against his own moral barometer. If he wouldn’t buy it, if he didn’t think it was worthwhile, then why the hell would anyone else? That takes balls, but the results speak for themselves.
I’ve always tried to listen to my gut and though we have a good communication, on many occasions I’ve felt the need to calm my gut down and tell it that we have to stay calm for a bit, that our time will come. Steve Jobs didn’t have that safety mechanism that often yields mediocre results and frustration. If he saw that something was a waste of time he stopped doing it and he got busy living, because what the hell is a life worth, if you’re always waiting for the right time to do anything?
The reality is that ideal conditions do not happen often and it is quite common that either we don’t recognize what those conditions are, or we don’t even get to see those conditions happen. Opportunity manifests itself best when it is created. If not, we run the risk of arriving at old age and having nothing truly worthwhile to show for our efforts, simply because we were waiting.
As for the Apple experience, well it all starts from the beginning. When you first turn on your Mac, as in out of the box, there’s an intro video that blows you away and makes you want to play with all of the features available on your Mac and keep learning. When was the last time you felt that pumped up to use a PC? Actually, feel free to compare your reaction to when you listen to a PC turn on and when a Mac turns on… the experience could not be more different. With a PC, you feel like you’re listening to an American Airlines instructional video… on a Mac, that single chime makes your entire sensorial mainframe say “let’s get it on”.
Steve Jobs was also famously combative, reported as one hell of an egomaniac and the amount of existing stories have to be enough to write a whole encyclopedia’s worth of Jobs anecdotes… but throughout it all, no one could deny their respect for the man or his vision. Confrontational, wired, intense and other words have been used to describe Steve and I think that’s awesome because although he would have busted your balls monstrously, something tells me he was just as harsh on himself and pushed so people would pursue excellence and settle for nothing less. Seriously, ask yourself how many bosses you have met that have pushed you to go beyond your supposed limits. To boot, he’s also been accused of being mean by people who wanted to take a picture with him. The reason I write this is to try and balance out the perception of the man and create a more plausible vision of who he was, since he was pretty private. I’m sure there will be various biographies about him… some positive, some horrendous, some fair, and many grossly unfair just for the sake of selling a book, so that pretty much guarantees I’ll never know the real Steve Jobs. That could be a good thing or a bad thing… though I suspect my life would have benefited from meeting a no-nonsense guy with such an amazing vision who demanded excellence each and every time out and would have called my bullshit when I halfassed something. True, it might have shaved some years off my life, but I’m pretty sure it would have been worth it. Even at a distance and as a recent Apple convert, that’s what I have to hold on to and enjoy… the vision of a guy who wasn’t afraid to take chances and occasionally be foolish. Someone who always pursued excellence, someone who mocked the mediocre and wasn’t afraid to be disliked by people for being the way he really was.
All we have left is a vision… and I couldn’t be more thankful.
In my life, there have been few public deaths that have truly rattled me. Shannon Hoon, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Arturo Gatti, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Mark Foo, and Andy Irons come to mind. My reactions have varied with the person and the circumstances but one thing rings true for each of them… it feels like they left too soon (even Carlin who passed away at the age of 71). Some might argue that talking about all these people in one context is like talking about apples and oranges… and they may be right, because although I’ll miss all of them, amongst all of these heroes, one apple shined brightest.
Here’s to being foolish enough to pursue excellence.