iQuit screams a creative headline in a newspaper. Steve Jobs, who has made a career out of successfully launching products that consumers lust after, has decided to throw in his towel and retire from Apple as the CEO. There has probably never been another business leader who has achieved so much in his lifetime; launching 5 block buster products, with each of them transforming the respective industries.
Apple was not the first-to-market with any of its products – It didn’t make the first music player, or smart phones, or PC/ laptops, wasn’t the first to attempt online music sales and wasn’t the first to bring tablet PC too. However, Steve Jobs has added some of his magic to these iMitations to transform them into objects of desire. We were all apparently just waiting for his iPhones and iPads to be launched, and we ourselves didn’t know! He once responded to such accusation with a quote from Pablo Picasso: “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.
There is intense interest in how Steve Jobs thinks and what gives him the ability to see what other mere mortals cant. He is known for his egomania, paranoia and abrasiveness; while at the same time he is one of the greatest business leaders who has inspired his team at Apple to launch such hugely successful products. There are no authorized biographies by him. Facts about his life are accessible, but they are of limited help in understanding this man who is so full of Paradoxes.
The way his life was headed, it was almost going to be summerised as –
He got sacked from his own company because of his bad behavior and poor business sense; he betrayed those closest to him (attempts at board room coups and corporate machinations at both Apple and NeXT, etc); his products didn’t excite the consumers (Macintosh, NeXT, Pixar-in the initial stages); he lived off investors money promising them glory but swindling all of their money (all the investments in NeXt which just burned up cash and the product was a failure).
But then his luck turned – Apple bought NeXT (for the software, which then became the platform for the Mac, iPhones, iPads) and Toy story became a hit, and all that he was working for and stood for started to made sense. His life’s narrative now will read like –
He pioneered the era of the personal computer in the 1980s. And even after being thrown out of the company, he spent 12 years remaking himself, then returned to lead Apple to the make it the most valuable company on the planet – he made iMac the objects of desire and which re-ignited Apples computer business; With iPod he transformed personal music player market (and which also revolutionized the handheld gaming devices market), with iTunes he revolutionized music industry; with iPhone he shook the world of telecommunications and internet (iPhones are responsible for the biggest increase of internet traffic in the US); and he was the father of the entire app economy.
One key to understanding Steve may well lie in his spiritual beliefs. Unlike most other insipid CEO speak, Steve’s address at Standford in 2005 is frank, insightful, inspirational and startling. In this he reminds the students of their mortality and tells them to accept the truth of their inevitable death, and then use that as a spring board to creativity – not the sort of advise you will find in any B-School for sure. Reminds me of what Carlos Castanida wrote while he was an apprentice to a shaman who was teaching him sorcery.
Deconstructing Steve Jobs personality into a list of traits isn’t probably going to ever give us any insight into him. We will need to look for some organizing principle that drives him. I think that principle is Passion. Dosent sound that profound given the overuse that this word is put to, but this is probably what made him stick to his beliefs even in the face of continues failures (and later as it so happened that his persistence proved him right). This same passion is also what made him obsess about each of his products (and also made him hold up the launch of his factory at NeXT, just because he didnt like the color of the walls of the shop floor!). His passion is what people experience when listening to him, the famous ‘Reality Distortion filed’, in which reality becoming malleable. Each of his ‘Keynote address’, probably one of the greatest marketing acts ever conceived, have left his fans (and critics) dazzled by his presentations, as he has stood there himself unveiling each of Apple’s products. The mass hysteria leading up to each of these keynotes speeches has been worth Billions of dollars in media coverage.
These beautiful products could never have been designed by a guy who worked to earn a salary, or a bonus, or a guy who sleepwalked into a job, or a guy who ever suffered Monday morning blues. He was a guy in love with his Creation, just like an artist would be with his painting or a sculpture. The shape, the textures, the curves, user experiences, nothing was glossed over. Everything was re-invented to perfection, right down to the smallest detail.
This Passion and pursuit of perfection which are innate to Steve Jobs, have been the primary drivers of success of Apple. These cant be handed over as a set of instructions or a process manual to his successor, and which is why Apple wont be the same without him. Just as he is getting off the stage now, I am almost expecting him to turn around and say ‘oh, and one more thing’ and change the world again.