To me, Steve Jobs was a hero. And if you read your Greek mythology, you know that there is a big difference between a hero and a saint. Not the same thing at all. Steve Jobs had a commitment to excellence that I believe developed during the time after he was fired by Apple in 1985. After he left Apple, Jobs founded NeXT Inc., which built an innovative UNIX-based computer that was used by Tim Berners-Lee to create the World Wide Web. With NeXT, Jobs was able to essentially start from scratch on building what he considered to be the ideal personal computer workstation, without any concern of making it compatible with existing PCs or Macs.
In 1997, Apple took Jobs back, and bought out NeXT Inc. The software that made the NeXT run became Macintosh’s OS X, a radical reboot of Apple’s operating system that was not compatible with old Mac programs. Jobs’ attitude was essentially, This is how it should be. Take it.
And people did take it. Jobs ushered in an era where Apple went from near bankruptcy to being the most valuable corporation in the world. Jobs envisioned a computer that would not just be a computer but rather a digital hub for all types of media and entertainment content. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and its accompanying iTunes software. And with these, he solidified his company as a major player in the new media business.
Jobs did many things people told him he couldn’t do. He persuaded the major recording labels to offer their music through Apple’s iTunes store. He persuaded the major broadcast and cable networks to sell their television shows through the iTunes store. He persuaded major movie studios to sell and rent their movies through…. Oh, you get the idea.
Jobs also found success in the movie business. He bought Pixar, a $10 million computer graphics company from Star Wars director George Lucas, and turned it into a $7 billion animation house that has created some of the most memorable cartoons of recent years, including the lovely WALL-E. In 2006, Jobs sold Pixar to Disney, and Jobs became Disney’s largest single stockholder as well a member of the company’s board of directors. (This is the Disney that owns ESPN and ABC….)
Jobs was a notorious perfectionist who was difficult to work with and for. He was notoriously secretive, claiming initially that a six-month leave of absence in 2009 for having a liver transplant was for a “hormone imbalance.”
In August of this year, just two months ago, Jobs retired as CEO of Apple:
“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
In the hours and days that followed, you might have been excused if you thought Jobs had died. The tributes poured in across the media. And I thought to myself, Jobs must be really ill if he’s actually going to step down as CEO.
As it turns out, he was. Forty-one days after his resignation, Jobs died.
I said at the beginning of this that to me Steve Jobs was a hero, not a saint. He was a hero because he stood up for a single-minded pursuit of excellence. He had a vision of what products should look like and how they should behave, and he never let anything interfere with that.
He had us look at computers, tablets, media players, streaming TV boxes, and ask, “What should these be like?” rather than “What should their specs be?” And I think that was his greatest gift as a visionary.
All across the net tonight, people are going to be linking to Steve Jobs’ famous commencement address from Stanford, and I suppose I could do that. But instead, I would simply quote the brilliant two word mission statement from an old Apple campaign. Steve Jobs was a hero because he could “Think Different.”
- Steve Levy – I had dreaded writing Steve Jobs’ obit.
- Google’s Founders on Steve Jobs
- 9 to 5 Mac’s collection of tributes
- Dan Fromer – Jobs greatest performance: Introducing the iPhoneI’m watching this for the first time. Fromer is right, this is Jobs at his best.
- WSJ’s Walt Mossberg – The Steve Jobs I Knew
- Truth 1 – Media are a central part of our life
- Poynter – How are the tech blogs paying tribute to Jobs?
- Jobs narrating “Here’s to the crazy ones.”
Here’s the Stanford commencement address: