Before I get any further, I readily admit that what follows is going to be indulgent. I can’t call it self-indulgent, because my hope is that it will be far more about my hero Steve Jobs and the millions upon millions he inspired than it is about me. Consider this one Machead’s experience, nothing more. And though I knew this day couldn’t be too far into the future, I also never expected I would be forced to reflect on his life, past tense, so soon. This has been a difficult hour. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who had the privilege to know him well.
I first became aware of Steve Jobs when I was 16 years old. Though I had been using his products since I was five (first on the Apple II with Oregon Trail, later on a MacPlus and an early Powerbook), and I had heard that one of the Apple guys was starting this crazy thing called NeXT several years later, the man behind the curtain had somehow escaped me as I gazed on his works in wonderment.
I was in a U.S. history class. The teacher announced an assignment to produce the five most important Americans ever. I forget who I brought in (other than Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), but I remember vividly the uproar that occurred when a classmate of mine, Heather, proposed Steve Jobs, saying none of us would be using computers without him. This being the early ’90s, the very thought was mocked by the Windows-centric class. “If he’s so important, why don’t we use his computers?” was the overwhelming refrain. As an already-militant Mac user, I vowed to learn more about the man. I read at least ten books about him, the history of the Mac, the history of Apple, even a dreadful book about NeXT that painted Steve as the Don Quixote of tech, fated to illustrate possibilities and watch more practically minded men like Michael Dell and Scott McNealy (of Sun) turn them into vibrant, dominant companies that stomped his.
What I learned from reading about him then, and then from the later visionary moves of his re-arrival to Apple, many keynotes, the strategic moves he made, and the beautiful products, software, and services that he directed and brought to life:
- Excellence is incredibly hard.
- Being first to have an idea is not the same as being the first to do that idea well (as Alan Kay can attest, though in his case, he was deeply involved in both the Xerox Alto and the Mac in addition to his original vision for the DynaBook).
- All the details matter.
- Greatness is not always recognized the first time around.
- If you build an army of followers, really believe that things can be different and better, and keep pushing to make a dent in the universe, you actually can.
- That insanely great people can be made insanely greater with astounding leadership.
- That it is possible to have an emotional relationship with technology — and an intellectual and soulful one, at that.
And, ultimately, in his astounding fourth act after his recovery from cancer (which encompassed the launch of the first iPhone, his soaring Stanford commencement, the launch of the iPad and everything else through today), we all were shown just how precious and filled with possibility every single day is and can be.
Most of all, he showed us how to Think Different. I can’t begin to express how much he will be missed.