Been there, done that, got the source code. A tribute to Steve Jobs.

If you’re asked to write about Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple, there’s no better place to do it than from the clouds.  Literally.  So, at 40,000 feet above wherever it is I am on the way to Oz, the musing is beginning to crystallise.  Perhaps I’m even flying through the ether itself.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Hey, don’t knock my fantasy world.  Steve Jobs built it for me and it’s mine to do with what I wish.  Yes, I’m writing this on a Mac, and the picture above was taken from my iPhone but this is my world and I paid for it.  My iPad offers better options for videos on my 24 hour flight than BA’s AVOD system.  And judging by the sea of tablets around me, that’s a consensus opinion.

So will Steve be missed?  Was he personally responsible for Apple’s success (twice) and my fantasy world? Or was it a classic case of right place right time?

Steve Jobs is on that iconic list of modern moguls, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Franklin Hollis.  Okay, the last one’s a fictional character from West Wing but as I’m supposedly flying through the ether, you’ll have to indulge me. And actually, that’s what Steve Jobs didn’t do for millions of people like me and you.  He didn’t indulge us.  He allowed us to do it ourselves.

Steve Jobs took the view that it was not the consumer’s job to decide what products they wanted to buy.  He threw out several decades of mainstream marketing thinking, which focused on consumer demand and how it would change.  Indeed, how could any of us have told a market researcher that we wanted what Steve eventually made for us?  Instead, Steve foolishly decided to invent ‘stuff’ first, and then see if it would float.

The fact that it did float, and in huge measure, is one reason why he continues to encourage all young people ‘to stay foolish’.  Never to settle for anything less than aiming high and doing something you love because that’s what produces the magic.  But never forgetting that it’s still just stuff.  All of it.

The learning process, for Steve, is about connecting the dots.  The future, conversely, needs us to acknowledge that there are as yet no dots to connect.  It’s up to us to work it out and develop amazing new things, which are only possible through unfettered foolishness.

Steve’s life, like his ‘stuff’, is amazing.  It’s a story of happenchance and hunger, sometimes literally.  He ate on the proceeds of returning coke bottles at 5 cents a piece and had one good meal a week at a Hari Krishna temple.  He opted out of, then back in to college education, when he realised that studying something he loved was a better life option.  Had it not been his good fortune to walk into a calligraphy course at Reed College in Portland, the commitment to enabling decent typography on Apple Macs (and subsequently on Windows systems too, if you believe Steve) may not have occurred.

Death, according to Steve, is one of life’s great inventions and what he calls ‘an agent of change’.  It’s a neat way of replacing the old with the new.  The fact that he came to terms with his own almost certain death, helped.  He understood more than any of us that treating every day as if it was your last is an invaluable source of personal development.  Consider what you have planned for each new day and ask yourself if that’s really what you’d want to do if there were to be no more.

It was an amazing bonus to then discover that his rare form of cancer was, after all, operable.

Sure, philosophical views are easy when you’re loaded.  And despite his low salary ($1 a year), Steve’s $6 billion stake in Apple and Disney means he now eats pretty well.  As the new Chair of the Apple Board, we shouldn’t be surprised if his personal foolishness still filters through to help create more stuff for us to play with, and make our lives more interesting and productive.  But ultimately, that’s up to us.  This is now our world and we will make of it what we will.   

Although this flight appears to have no end, I’ll guess I’m going to have to land sometime.  Either way, up here or down there, I’ll never quite leave the ether’s fantasy world behind.  Thanks, in no small part, to Steve Jobs. 



Ray Hanks