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Posted by on Oct 5, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

It’s the end of an era.

Tonight, the death of Steve Jobs was announced.

Much has already been written about the man, so no need to go over all that.

From my seat, Apple was a company unwavering in its commitment to excellence. This is in opposition to just plain bad – but not quite bad enough to get you to cancel the contract or switch providers. The new model of customer service for many corporations is “Drive the cost of customer service down as far as possible until customers start bailing.” Just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who said he hates his bank, but it is such a hassle to change banks that he stays.

Apple unapologetically charged for its customer service, and it’s excellent.

So what about the money? Jobs once famously said something to the effect of — when hearing an interviewer talk about the company’s financial position – that this was a nice number, but it was really just that. A number. It wasn’t very important to him. What really mattered was whether Apple was producing great products.

Do you feel that many of the products coming from large corporations today are really motivated by a quest for greatness? Or a desire to cut costs and maximize shareholder return?

Apple dared to be different, and this should not be understated. At a time when the entire world was rushing to PCs, Apple stood by its vision. Its OS, applications and graphical user interface. Imagine the temptations there must have been to be a PC wanna-be. After all, that’s where the big money was, right?

Jobs demanded the best, and he had a vision. In this way, he was no different than any respectable junior high sports coach, when you stop to think about it.

What is it about the economy, the business culture today that such a posture should be so radical?

Jobs also bridged the artificial gap between art and science. He studied calligraphy as a young man, and this exposed him to aesthetics, design and beauty. Can you say the products of most companies today are aesthetic, designed well, and even beautiful?

But what always got me about Apple was empathy. Empathy is not sympathy – it is the ability to see and understand something as someone else may experience it. It is a cognitive and emotional skill.

The first time I bought an iMac, I opened this beautiful, sleek box and the first thing I saw was a note that said, “We’re as excited about your new Apple purchase as you are.”

They “got it.” They understood that customers were more than revenue-generating units to be seduced with promises of 3 free months of service and then to be shafted at customer service time. Apple related to customers.

Apple products are easy. One of the machines I bought over the years had instructions to the effect of: “Take the computer out of the box. Plug it in. Press the power button.”

That was it. You were in business.

Who hasn’t sworn at a personal computer at some time – trying to get it to print, network, configure or just cooperate?
I have compared Apple’s sense of customers with traditional PC companies’ sense with an analogy. It’s as though we’re at the beginning of the automotive era (and make no mistake; we are at the beginning of the computer era). Most manufacturers think the job of the car is to get a passenger from A to B. And they’re right.

But another company comes along with the question, “How do we make the ride enjoyable?” They start coming up with suspension systems, windshields, padding in the seats. This is Apple. Thinking about the user, not just going from A to B.

Apples are fun. They are built with a sense of humor, irreverence, freshness, even frivolity.

When Jobs recruited John Sculley from Pepsi to be CEO, he asked him, “Do you want to sell sugar water? Or do you want to change the world?” He had a big vision.

It’s the end of an era, and I sincerely hope Apple can keep the vision alive.

The Apple home page tonight, October 5, 2011, doesn’t feature the new iPhone, or any other products.

The home page embodies what Apple has been all about. Beauty, simplicity, grace.

It had an evocative picture of Jobs, and simply says, “Steve Jobs. 1955-2011.” It’s beautiful, and it made me cry.

Thank you, Steve, for making our world, and thousands of my own hours in front of a machine, so much better.

And I hope you’re up there right now telling the Man how much better the whole computing system up there could be – just let you at it.

A final point. You, the reader, and I,  don’t have forever to do what we need to do. The clock is ticking on our contribution, greatness, and dreams. We don’t know what our dates will be. But we do have today. And that’s all we know for sure we have. Let’s make the most of it.

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