The year we lost a genius

The year we lost a genius

When Steve Jobs died we lost a marketing genius who has made a mark on the world unlike anyone else in recent history.  Some have compared him to the great scientists Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison, and others likened him to the great industrialist Henry Ford.  Apple became a disruptive empire that started in a Los Altos, California garage with two unlikely best friends Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak and ended up as a worldwide powerhouse that revolutionized the way we all interface with technology today.

The Beginning:

It all began with the two friends assembling and selling a telephone pirating device called a blue box. After running into legal issues with the blue box, they stepped up their game by developing and building a first generation personal computer, the Apple I, manually with a rag-tag crew of friends and family. In 1977 the Apple Computer Company was formed with marketing principles of empathy, focus, and impute.

As the company expanded Job’s greatness was often undermined by his reprehensible and unorthodox behavior.  One example of his poor behavior occurred when it was time for him to attend college. When his parents took him to Reed College in Portland, Oregon he refused to let them accompany him onto the campus when they dropped him off. He didn’t even bother to thank them as they left, even though he knew that they were using all of their savings to pay for him to go to school.

While attending Reed he became enamored with extreme diets, Zen spirituality and smoking marijuana and dropping acid and other psychedelic drugs.  When New York Times reporter John Markoff interviewed him for his 2005 book What the Doormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, Jobs told him, “Doing LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” 

Difficult Personality:

As Apple became more and more successful, computers became accepted by the counter-culture crowd as a symbol of liberation and individual expression. While Jobs apparently strayed away from drugs as Apple grew, his reputation for being extremely obnoxious worsened as is noted in the following passage from Walter Isaacson’s biography: Steve Jobs

“In Italy he took an instant dislike to Apple’s general manager… Jobs told him bluntly that he was not impressed with his team or his sales strategy. “You don’t deserve to be able to sell the Mac,” Jobs said coldly. ”

In another passage from the biography Isaacson writes about a confrontation that Jobs had with his mentor and CEO John Sculley. Jobs had called a board meeting to overthrow Sculley while he was away on vacation. Sculley learned of the coup, cancelled his vacation and showed up at the meeting. When Sculley confronted Jobs about the situation in front of the entire board of directors, Jobs said “I think you’re bad for Apple and I think you’re the wrong person to run the company. You really should leave the company. You don’t know how to operate and you never have. I wanted you here to help me grow, and you’ve been ineffective in helping me.”   This behavior continued until he was finally ousted from the company in September 1985.

A new beginning: 

Steve eventually became wiser and more mature, however, it took some significant failures in his endeavors after he was ousted from Apple to get him on the right track. When he returned to Apple in 1997, he was brought back to save the company. At that time he claims the company was 90 days from insolvency and had lost $1.07 Billion. He was ready to take on the challenge of turning it around and in January of 1998, at a Macworld conference he uttered his famous phrase “Oh and one more thing…” By year-end Apple had turned a profit of $309 Million and the company was back in the game, as was Jobs.

The key to turning around the company was Steve’s philosophy of simple yet elegant product design, product essence, precise manufacturing of the product, and brilliant marketing. Jobs told Fortune magazine shortly after taking the reins again at Apple that “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.”

Elegant products create a new wave in social media:

Job’s new vision for Apple resulted in products and technology that were in high demand. His products impacted people’s every day life and eventually even impacted social media going a long way to make it what it is today all around the world. The iPod revolutionized the music industry and made it portable and sexy in a way that it had never been before. Music could now be easily downloaded onto a portable device that was small, elegant and simple to use.

In the same way the iPhone changed forever the way we would interact with our phones and each other. While Apple did not invent the smartphone, the company re-purposed it in such a way that made it exciting, functional and a must-have gadget.

You could now not only take your music with you anywhere, but you could access many different apps that allowed you to check into your favorite restaurant or club and hook-up with your friends who also had the same app on their iPhone. Social media began to merge with real life.

Twitter and Facebook Apps on your phone made it super easy to like your best friend’s crazy night on the town pictures or send a tweet to the world about your camel riding adventure while on vacation in Marrakesh.

The new products kept coming with the iPhone 3G, 4 and 4S. The iPad, iPad2 and the tremendous growth of the Apple stores only fired up the crowds even more and before we knew it the Apple Fanboys were born. Apple events are so highly anticipated that rumors about new product releases hit the press months in advance and when the day of the event finally arrives it often turns into a media circus.  Apple today is more than just a company: it appears to be a phenomenon.

The Legend:

Steve Jobs was definitely a genius that arose in our generation. Just like many geniuses in history he had many flaws. However, he will be most remembered for his ability to make beautiful products, generate buzz for them that is unprecedented, and create a company that is respected all over the world. It will be interesting to see how Apple fares without him. He will be missed, and many co-workers and employees that he berated terribly, admit that he challenged them to achieve results that they thought were impossible.

In the end Steve said that he really didn’t like to put off switches on his products. At the end of Isaacson’s biography Steve is quoted saying “So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures. But, on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone.”

What are your memories of Steve Jobs? Do you think Apple will be able to continue its success without him at the helm?

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