Steve Jobs – the genius who passed through our times.
- “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
- "“I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry."
On October 5th, Steve Jobs (co-founder Apple), the visionary who defied the odds, redefined the paradigm and built up Apple from a computer manufacturer to one of the world’s most valuable companies – passed away after a long battle with cancer. The outpouring of emotion and sadness came from all sides of the spectrum – colleagues, friends, consumers and even business rivals – lamenting the death of one of the ‘last great empire builders’ (words from a tweet following the announcement).
The first draft of this article was very factual and less of an opinion piece. A friend who read it asked me if that draft really reflected what I thought of Steve Jobs and the honest answer was an emphatic ‘no’. He was one of a kind, akin to a 20th century Tesla, Newton or da Vinci.
The irony is that in order to pay homage to the futuristic genius and visionary behind one of the world’s most valuable tech companies, I have to be human. No tech, no jargon.
I never met the man (although I wish I had) and yet I felt a deep sense of grief and loss, as if someone I knew closely was gone. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
No event in recent history has had this kind of profound effect. For so many of us, Jobs was a living genius and the only one we knew. Probably the only one we will know for a long time to come.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
I’m not a Mac user per se (the only exception is an iPad which my three-year-old uses to play Angry Birds or read storybooks) but having worked in advertising and multimedia, I have been exposed to Apple products over the past 15 years. If I loved the product, I balked at the price and the uber cool brand persona. If I ever considered buying one, the lack of free (or bootleg) software would throw me for a loop. Thus, as a long time Windows user, I had a love-hate relationship with Apple. Yet, throughout the years, the self proclaimed ‘pirate of Silicon Valley’ continued to attract my interest.
Much can be said (and has been) about the entrepreneurial traits that Steve Jobs had, which were the driving force that made Apple an iconic company. The fact remains that reading about it only scratches the surface – very few of us get to live it. I am like all those people who dream of starting a company from home that will be worth billions some day. We all want the ups, certainly not the downs, and yet it was those down periods that defined the man and his subsequent persona; emerging each time stronger than ever before; a human phoenix. His failures were necessary to his success.
Being fired from a job is bad enough. Being fired from the highly valuable company you started in your parent’s garage is devastating. He grieved and moved on. Revelled in the newfound freedom of a beginner (also referenced in his famous ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ speech at Stanford) and founded a company called NeXT that would fail miserably. Yet again, this failure gave him that direction and focus that would play a crucial role in driving Apple during the second coming of Steve.
"“I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry."
Perhaps it was a sign of things to come, but even then Jobs realised that he would always be a part of Apple. The two brands (and yes, by then Jobs was becoming a brand icon) would be intertwined.
“I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’ll always come back.” (Interview with Playboy, February 1985.)
Indeed, when Apple purchased NeXT in 1996, the prodigal son returned home and the world started to change. Slowly but surely, over the next five years Apple began its rebirth. The line demarcating the two brands became blurred.
There was precise, laser like focus. Unnecessary products, software and hardware were cut, manufacturing was reorganised and outsourced. The learnings from NeXT were used to redevelop the Mac Operating System. Innovation was required at all levels, and the company started delivering.
Product innovation was key and Jobs was ruthless in maintaining a disciplined approach – building not only a better product, but changing the way people perceived the product category and in the course of this making them realise that what they really needed all along was now in front of them.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (Interview with Businessweek, May 1998.)
However, had the only redeeming factor of any of these products been their design, people would have been fooled once, but not again. The products were beautifully designed, skilfully crafted, powerful in their operations – and worked like hell to boot.
“That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” (Interview with The New York Times, November 2003.)
What went into a product was as important as what was kept out. It had to look good, but perform even better. Easier said than done – and yet they did, time and time again.
I remember grad school, where every marketing course drummed into our heads the idea of always being the first to market. Being the second or third entrant in a market never bothered Jobs because his focus was to enter only when the product met his vision and standards. He was the ultimate focus group. His was the standard that had to be met.
Flash drive-based portable music players were available for two years or so before the iPod was launched. Tablet PCs had been around since the mid-90s but the iPad revolutionised the market (it currently holds close to 80% of the tablet market). There were many smartphones and touchphones in the market when the iPhone came out. And the MacBook Air helped create a new category of computers called ‘ultrabooks’.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during those initial iPhone or iPad brainstorming sessions. The craziness, the passion, the confidence, the secrecy, the giddy excitement of that eureka moment when they realised that they would (once again) redefine the world and how we interacted with it.
I once read somewhere that “you’re doing something wrong when the best thing about your product launch is the ad campaign.” Jobs held firm in his belief that the product created its own story. Everything else was fluff.
And as an extension of his ‘simplicity’ mantra (also evident in his trademark black turtleneck and faded jeans), Apple’s marketing ‘devolved’ so to speak and went down to a zen-like simplicity, almost in synergy with the simplistic design of the products themselves. A slogan like ‘Think Different’ could suffice because the product was so radically different.
Yet, despite his vision on how to take Apple to the next level, he could not do it alone (and he was always honest enough to admit it). So he surrounded himself with a team that was as brilliant as he was. Jon Ive (Industrial Design Head), Ron Johnson (Head of Apple Retail), Tim Cook (current CEO), Phil Schiller (Head of Worldwide Product Marketing) – over the years they were the gears moving the machine forward and streamlined, designed, developed and marketed Apple to where it is today. And where it will be tomorrow.
This team now has the unenviable task of leading Apple through the current situation, and they have some mighty big shoes to fill. The good thing is that many tech analysts believe that Jobs would have had direct influence and say in all Apple product design and development through to 2013. After that, only time will tell.
So he may not be around when the iPad 4 or iPhone 7 comes out, but rest assured, his vision, spirit and creativity will be there for years to come. Because someone, somewhere, would have asked, “What would Steve say?”
So thank you Mr Jobs.
Thank you for being the crazy one, the misfit, the rebel, the troublemaker, the round peg in a square hole. Thank you for being ‘brave enough to think differently, bold enough to think you could change the world, and genius enough to do it’.
You stayed hungry, you stayed foolish – and along the way you changed how we view the world and interact with each other. You changed our world – forever.
Faraz Haider is Head of Planning, Cosmo Group (distributors of beauty and personal care products).