"I don’t know how I lived without this. I feel so much smarter now!”
Those were the words of an ex-girlfriend of mine, within a day of getting her first iPhone. They still make me want to punch a baby when I think of them. But I don’t blame her for that: I blame (or laud) Steve Jobs. Prior to 2007, the very idea that a small computer that sometimes functions as a phone could change someone’s life would have been laughable. Enter Steve Jobs.
I don’t own any Apple products, save for the iPhone issued to me by my day job. But I’m in the minority. For most of us maybe all of us Apple products are an indelible part of our lives. Any MP3 player is referred to as an iPod. I challenge you to find someone who purchases music anywhere other than iTunes. It’s not just a company or a product; it’s a part of our culture.
And that’s why Steve Jobs served as such a brilliant leader. More than just the captain of a massive corporate vessel, Jobs is a modern-day, real-life Don Draper. More than anything, he has the ability to sell dreams, to sell lifestyles. Where other tech companies advertised their products’ features and how well they worked, Jobs spearheaded products that we had to have. We needed them. We were out of the loop without them. It wasn’t about wanting it because it was better or faster or made work easier. We wanted his toys because after Jobs’ announcement and before you even got a chance to hold it in your hand, there was an iPhone-shaped hole in our souls. Through Jobs’ brilliance, Apple has achieved the corporate brass ring: both a zealous cult following and mainstream admiration.
Jobs also taught us a thing or two about strategy and product design. Until the iPad, Apple was largely a follower. The iPhone was far from the first smartphone. The iPod was hardly the first MP3 player. Rather than joining in the rat race to produce new ideas to one-up its competitors, Apple chose to simply wait, watch and improve. It had nothing to do with the latest hardware. It was about functionality and overcoming the obstacles that made competitors’ products seem silly by comparison. Recall Apple’s somewhat brash, cocky marketing campaign: “It just works.” Nothing flashy, not a lot you haven’t seen before just something that’s going to work so well that it will become an extension of yourself.
I think that’s a valuable lesson for anyone, particularly for young men wondering how they’ll make a name for themselves in an increasingly small, crowded world. Innovation doesn’t have to come in the form of raw creation. Rather, it can come from a place of study and improvement. You don’t have to come up with the next big thing. If you can take an accepted process or product and make it better, you have a chance of adding more value than you might have realized.
When the iPad hit the scene, to me it said that Apple had reached critical mass. It took the leap from being a company that redefines the market to one that outright creates it. It’s inarguable that Jobs’ vision and leadership played a part in that. Even though he’s stepping down as CEO, Apple would be foolish to move forward without his guidance: it’s no surprise that, despite his ill-health and the hand-off to Tim Cook, he still plans to act as chairman of the board.
I may never break down and buy your overpriced, artfully designed machines, Steve, but, god damn it, do I respect you for making me think about it.