Thoughts on the passing of Steve Jobs

Thoughts on the passing of Steve Jobs

This week was busy one for travel, with speeches and book signings at a variety of venues in Brussels, Paris, London and Switzerland.  Again, I was truly delighted to see the enthusiasm of the attendees for my message about how brands, organizations and individuals can learn to use storytelling more effectively in their communication.

But, I am not going to write today about me or about these conferences.  Rather, I was struck by the fact that people seemed to have Steve Jobs and his recent passing on their minds.   They wanted to know: What happens to Apple now?  How can they continue his work?  What should be their new story? What is my view about him, or about the future of Apple?

One interesting aspect of these questions is that they seemed to come up everywhere I went, even if the topic of my presentation was storytelling and social media.  It just speaks to the remarkable influence Apple’s co-founder had on the world, and how well known he was to the public.  His death seems to have touched people deeply, all over the world.

In the early 1980s, when I was a student at Stanford and later an employee at Atari, I encountered Steve on several occasions.  I remember talking with him once in a small group where he said that he was not really and inventor or a technologist.  He did not think of himself as particularly creative.  What he thought he was good at was “connecting things”.

Connecting things.  To me that was always his greatest strength.  He seemed to be able to see possibilities where others saw merely devices and products.

He seemed to be able to take ideas that were not fully developed, or not done quite right yet, and show us how it should be done.  This was true for computers with a mouse and graphical user interface, for smart phones, for music players and for tablets.  These items already existed when Apple brought their product entries to market.  And then, when Steve Jobs presented Apple’s versions to the world, we watched in awe and said: “Yeah, that’s the way it should be.”

He was a genius at connecting things, and at showing us possibilities.

A quote that I have heard attributed to him is one of my personal favorites: “Good artists copy; great artists steal”.  But, I don’t think those words were truly his.  Some of my friends at Apple told me that he was proud to have stolen those words…from the great artist Pablo Picasso.

Steve Jobs was not an engineer, and I think he used that “shortcoming” to his advantage.  Since he had no formal training as a technologist, his primary obsession was not with technical performance.  He was a perfectionist about detail, design and the user interface.  He wanted to take complex technology and make it seem simple, elegant and easy to use.

I remember sitting in an auditorium at Stanford in 1982 or 1983 when he came to present “the computer of the future”, a computer they would call Lisa.  It had a graphical interface and a mouse, and it just looked cool.  Though I believe it was far from a great commercial success, the Lisa did lead to the Macintosh, and to a dramatic change in the way we all relate to our machines.  In that auditorium, I was sitting with a non-technical fellow student who nudged me and said, “I’ve never really enjoyed working at a computer much, but this seems like one I could really get into using.”  To me, that simple remark says a lot about who Steve Jobs was and the influence he had.

More than anyone else, he made technology personal.  He brought it “home” to us.  Other computers, other mobile phones, or other music players were functional; Apple’s were objects of beauty that we fell in love with.

Now that he is gone, the world seems concerned, wondering who will be there to make our technology personal.

Often a master of hyperbole, he once told the team that was working day and night to deliver the first Macintosh on time that they were on a heroic journey.  They were not merely building a new type of computer.  They were “putting a dent in the universe.” If anyone in our time managed to do that, to put his mark on the universe, it was certainly Steve Jobs.

1 Comment

  1. Jean Jacques 11 years ago

    Hi John,

    When i heard the news i immediately thought about the legendary case study you prepared for us as a group of MBA students…this was one of the best learning experience we had during the program.

    I reckon that great leaders always have an amazing capacity for “connecting things” thanks for highlighting this trait from Steve Job’s personality.

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