Technology, Cloud

A CIO Reflects on Steve Jobs

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“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build."-- - Steve Jobs

 

I never met Steve Jobs but I feel like I knew him.  I bet many of you feel the same.  I believe that this is because his influence has so powerfully impacted every aspect of our business and our lives. 

There is a famous story, recounted in John Sculley’s autobiography Odyssey, in which he related a discussion he had with Jobs when Jobs was attempting to recruit the then president of Pepsi to Apple.  Sculley wasn’t sure that he wanted to make the move.  As the story goes, the two were sitting on a park bench in silence when Jobs suddenly asked, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water to kids or do you want to help change the world?”  That is how Jobs viewed Apple’s mission.

Think of his contributions .  They are absolutely mind-boggling.  One of the first successful mass market personal computers, the Apple II. The original Macintosh.  (I owned one. Two 3.5 inch “floppy” drives that required frequent manual disk swapping!). NeXT which used (gasp!) UNIX as an operating system and would ultimately become the foundation for Apple’s future OS X.  Pixar which revolutionized animated films the way Walt Disney did decades earlier. And finally, the “i” era. 

First there was the iPod.  Portable music players had become common starting with the bulky Sony Walkman followed by solid state devices like the Rio.  But these could only accommodate one CD (or cassette tape) or the equivalent.  Jobs turned the portable music player on its head.  What if you could have your entire music collection on a small portable player?  The iPod was born. But as the infomercials say, “Wait, there is more!”  Jobs invented an entire business model for the distribution of content which he named iTunes.  iTunes revolutionized the music industry and is doing the same with video and other formats such as the podcast which has opened an entirely new area of publishing. 

Next came the iPhone.  The cell phone became a device that rivals the “communicators” of  Star Trek fame.  A multi purpose, multi-media device that allows us to keep in touch regardless of where we are or what we are doing. 

Finally, the iPad.  A truly game-changing device that, like the iPhone, is changing the face of mobile computing and communication.

All of this while continuing to evolve the Macintosh platform, a computing platform that was almost given up for dead not that many years ago.

In addition to his technical genius, Jobs was an industrial design genius.  His understanding and obsession with design, features and function is legendary.   Not an easy guy to work for but then most geniuses aren’t.  He broke the rules when it came to product design.  He didn’t conduct focus groups or customer surveys.  He decided what the products looked like and what they did.  He seemed to instinctively know what would work and what wouldn’t.  Few can pull this off. 

Lastly, he was a marketing genius.  His use of product introductions and his understanding of how to gain “mindshare” through marketing and advertising are the stuff of legend.  Can anyone forget the “1984” Super Bowl add that introduced the Macintosh? 

As I reflect on Steve Jobs contribution, it is not so much a contribution to technology as much as it is a contribution to society and culture.  He profoundly influenced both.  Jobs was multidimensional in a way that few others in our history have been.  He was possessed both genius and the ability to flawlessly execute in multiple complimentary disciplines simultaneously.  In this he joins the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Benjamin Franklin who also possessed this unique ability.

In the end John Sculley didn’t change the world, but Steve Jobs did.

 

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Discussion
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pcalento
Paul Calento 256 Points | Tue, 10/11/2011 - 23:25

Jobs' second act at Apple shows how a methodical approach to excellence and product development can be transformational (to a company and its customers). It is easy to try too much, too often and miss the mark. Apple's success has much to do with a pragmatic philosophy. Don't build features unless they're well-understood by their audience. Focus on usability. Create a quality product. Don't settle.

jdodge
John Dodge 1368 Points | Wed, 10/12/2011 - 13:59

And consumers bought it in droves. Whatever Apple did differently it has done for decades...over the long haul. It never wavered from excellence in function and design. What was its last failure - the Newton? That was a long time ago.

What's even more ironic is how it vacated IT departments in the 90s by getting out of the server business. And now its consumer products are wreaking havoc in IT departments (in a good way). Who would have thunk it?  

jdodge
John Dodge 1368 Points | Mon, 10/10/2011 - 14:58

Agreed, Bill. However, Apple is not perfect. Our family dipped our toe in the Apple cider with an iMac v. 1. OS 9 point whatever had many problems and the hardware was underpowered -- as early Macs have historically have been. For better or worse, we welcomed back what we knew -- PCs -- with open arms.

 

blaberis
Bill Laberis 148 Points | Fri, 10/07/2011 - 19:35

I think more than anything else Steve Jobs and Apple were almost always a giant step ahead of the Intel-Microsoft oligopoly in terms of usability, which is why a company that markets not one iota to mid-sized and large business still enjoys a decent marketshare with laptops and a commanding presence with its iPhone and iPad mobility offerings. Secondly, Apple under Steve Jobs was an innovation engine the likes of which may never be seen again. Knowing how he was so intimately involved in every detail of his company, much of the credit goes directly to Jobs for these two attributes.

jdobbs
Joel Dobbs 321 Points | Wed, 10/12/2011 - 20:49

Bill,

 

Good points about innovation.  Apple is one of the first companies that comes to mind when we think of innovators.  The interesting thing is that they were really not the first to inventany of their great "innovations" but were a fast follower.  They didn't invent the graphical user interface, the smart phone, the tablet computer or the portable music player but they took the original idea and took it to an entirely new level. Some of the best innovation comes not from invention but from perfection.

pearl
Pearl Zhu 89 Points | Thu, 10/06/2011 - 16:32

Hi, Joel, great summary about Steve Jobs' legacy, and a few great quotes such as "Simplicity is ultimate suphiscation", "Life is all about connecting the dots"., etc,  are essential to both pursuing life purpose and career passion. thanks