The media has been saturated the last couple days with memories of Steve Jobs.
Here’s mine — it lasted about two seconds. It was the late 1980s, and I was at a press conference. All I remember was he was speaking. I don’t know what the press conference was about, or who I was freelancing for at the time.
For a brief moment, I caught his eye. I remember a distinct impression that I got as he looked back into my eyes. It was something I’ve never seen or experienced before or since.
He had a smile on his face — a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. The look in his eye said to me, “Just watch what we’re going to do!”
What he did, of course, was take an impossible concept — a warm and connected digital device, the Macintosh — and use it to lead Apple to becoming the world’s most valuable company, in hard and cold dollar terms. With a string of similar products: the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.
And a company culture that had all of the irresistibly magnetic qualities of a cult.
At another time, he told a reporter that his goal was to “put a ding in the universe.”
Well done, my two-second friend. You definitely accomplished your goal.
How he did that, what he did, and how it has affected us -- those are what fascinate me the most.
I am certainly looking to find those things out. I don’t pretend to know that much about them yet. I have a few clues, though, and I’d like to share them with you here today.
The first clue is that he was probably more fluent in the language (and non-verbal experience) of emotion than anyone else in Silicon Valley.
He didn’t talk in bits and bytes. He talked in you and me.
Here is what he said during his famous Stanford commencement speech in 2005:
"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."
Interesting stuff. Really profound, but easy to understand.
Can you imagine any number of smartest-guy-in-the-room Silicon Valley honchos even lip-synching the words?
I can’t. It takes an emotional genius to say something that simple and yet that universally connecting.
The second clue is that he didn’t consider customers a necessary evil or an annoyance to be tolerated. He knew that they were the lifeblood of his business.
A lot has been said about how he didn’t listen to customers, he told them what they wanted. That he destroyed entire segments of the industry -- desktop computing, the use of the floppy disk, even the use of the CD drive in the latest MacAir -- out of his own visionary arrogance.
But it may not have been that simple.
Or even that way at all.
Yesterday I heard Netscape pioneer Marc Andreesson talking on Charlie Rose’s interview show.
Andreesson said Jobs was frequently seen in the evening at the Apple store in Palo Alto, talking to customers, asking them about their experience with the products.
Of course, this seems just like Jobs.
But remember, he was CEO of the corporation that kept playing tag with Exxon-Mobil to be the most valuable corporation in the world by market capitalization, earlier this year.
So can you imagine Rex Tillerson going down to the local Mobil station to ask customers how they liked the gas?
(Nothing against Tillerson. I don't know anything about him and in fact had never heard of him until I just Googled him a few seconds ago. And he looks like a very civic-minded and engaged person, outside his job as Exxon-Mobil CEO. But as I stare at his corporate photo on the company site, I have a hard time imagining him mixing it up with refueling motorists.)
The third is how high a priority Steve Jobs placed on aesthetics... and how he, as best I can figure out, not having any inside information, refused to compromise.
When I made the switch from Windows to Mac a little over a year ago, I found I actually looked forward to working on it and looking at the screen. It was like the difference between driving a Camry and driving a BMW. Both get you where you’re going... but one is really fun along the way.
Aesthetics and user experience. Brian McLeod, My partner in Fast Effective Copy, is a Mac-maniac from way back.
Look at this video he did for us and you can see the impact Steve Jobs’ sense of aesthetics has on his work.
It’s no coincidence that every film coming out of Pixar, the animation studio Jobs created, was extraordinarily profitable in the marketplace.
I know a number of my Mac-maniac friends felt they had some kind of personal connection to Steve. I didn’t and I don’t. I didn’t know the guy. I had all of two seconds of actual personal connection with him.
But I feel a warm connection in spirit to who the man was—and what he stood for.
And that’s good enough for me.
I’m sorry we lost him on Wednesday and I’m grateful for what he brought to us while he was here.
Co-founder, Fast Effective Copy