[Today is the anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs. This is me writing in 2011, when he annouced his retirement from Apple. –GSS]
Steve Jobs announced his resignation today as CEO of Apple, Inc. From that one little tidbit of information, we can foresee a long, slow roll-out of “news” content.
Tonight and tomorrow we’ll see the newsy stuff — Jobs’ biography, his history with Apple, his successor, the product pipeline and the financial portents of the whole interconnected circus.
Tomorrow and later we’ll have reaction pieces, starting with phony tributes and leading to phony trashings.
The real ugliness will await the magazines — paper, video and virtual: Steve Jobs was a brutal boss. Steve Jobs was a techno-pirate. Steve Jobs was unfair to mediocrities!
Everything you read or hear about the man in the coming weeks will be defensibly true in some kind of you-could-look-it-up fashion. And every bit of it will mean nothing, the endless, senseless mastication of trivial details with not a shred of meaning to be found in the mash.
So let’s cut to the chase: Here is what actually matters about the working life of Steve Jobs:
With one incredible product after the next, with one brilliant strategic move after the next, with one astounding financial milestone after the next, the most wonderful thing Steve Jobs made in his working life was:
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the record.
Start with an obvious proposition: Steve Jobs has made you amazingly richer. You don’t have to own Apple stock — but bully for you if you do. But Apple’s products — computers, music-players, phones and software — have enriched your life in hundreds of ways.
Better, faster, cheaper, always — always the very best of capitalist efficiency. But almost always categorically better. The products that Steve Jobs brought to market redefined those markets.
So you owe Jobs not just for your Macintosh, but for all of modern desktop, laptop and notebook computing. Every high-end phone was designed, essentially, by Apple, as are all of the ephemeral tablet computers.
Before Steve Jobs pioneers a new product line, the competition is superficially different and uniformly lame. Afterward, everything looks and feels like Apple’s product, and the competition for any sort of marketing advantage over Apple is fierce. His influence not only makes Apple’s product superb, it makes his competitors’ products better, too.
Who benefits? That would be you.
There’s more. Apple’s influence is everywhere. Apple’s colors become everyone’s colors, its style everyone’s style. There is flattery in that mimicry, as well as corruption: If my crappy Windows box looks like a Macintosh, maybe you won’t know until you get it home that it doesn’t run like a Macintosh.
But there is also a cleaner kind of influence to be found in the pandemic mimicry of Apple’s style: The example Steve Jobs sets with Apple sanctions and encourages better, more original thinking in a broad range of companies.
It is not wrong to say that everything is better because of the work Steve Jobs did at Apple. I’m not being a fanboy, but I am trying to be completely honest. I think what I have said so far holds up to you-could-look-it-up scrutiny. Every business in the world has been influenced by Apple, by its products, and by its irrepressible, irreplaceable CEO.
Everything we do is better, faster and cheaper because of Steve Jobs — and some things are astoundingly better because their creators followed Jobs’ example all the way, rethinking their businesses from the ground up.
There are other people who share responsibility for these amazing outcomes, obviously. We deny them nothing by taking note that, without Steve Jobs, none of those outcomes would have come about.
Why is that so? Because Steve Jobs represents an alternative idea of capitalism, a cleaner, better way of making money.
The school of business founded by P.T. Barnum, MBA, advises you to deliver as little value as possible in exchange for as much money as possible. Apple’s way, from the birth of the company, has been to offer superlatively better value at an even steeper price-point.
I know next to nothing about Steve Jobs as a person, and I’m not putting words in his mouth. I don’t know how he thinks about any of this — except as I see his thinking, and that of the incredibly talented people he recruits, in his products and in his praxis.
But whether he has rigorously defended his philosophy of business, I can understand it completely — and so can you.
And that’s the point. Just as every business in the world has been influenced by Steve Jobs, so has every person.
You are a better producer because of the influence Steve Jobs has had on your work. You’re more creative, more daring, more persistent, more courageous. Your work is better because of the computing paradigms Apple pioneered, but it’s better, too, because you do your best work in very Jobsian ways.
But you are a better person in every way because of the example set by Steve Jobs. The man’s style of life is infectious, and his intransigent commitment to absolute excellence exerts its influence on every aspect of your life.
You are the most wonderful thing Steve Jobs made in his storied career, what you are now and what you will become in the future.
This is an amazing thing, but I will bet you never thought to think of it until now. You’ve heard capitalism derided and denounced your entire life, and yet you live your life expressing a bored indifference for the incredible riches the still-somewhat-free market has lain at your feet.
In reality, capitalism makes everything better, but what it does best is simply this: Capitalism makes better people — and you are living proof.
You owe Steve Jobs far more than you can ever even hope to calculate, much less repay. And yet he will never stop enriching you, for as long as you hold the example of his life and career in your mind.
Philosophy is an arcane and boring discipline that ultimately comes down to one very simple question: What should you do? In a world of grifters and grafters, hustlers and hasslers and whores of every indescribable aroma, Steve Jobs offered up this as an answer — in his work, in Apple’s products and in his life:
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe.”
Steve Jobs starts his retirement now, and surely he has earned a rest. But your work — and your life — goes on. By the example of his outsized, outrageous, insanely-great career, he has shown you how much better your own life can be — and how much better you can make everyone’s lives by making your own life better.
Your job, going forward, is simple: Follow through. Think everything all the way through. Rebuild the universe from the ground up. And thrive in a world where everything is perfect and every day still better.
This is doable. You cannot doubt it. You can see it in the example Steve Jobs set with his life. And you can see it in yourself, when you have stretched yourself to achieve your absolute best.
You will get nothing worth having when you come to market with nothing-worth-having in trade. But you are the most wonderful thing Steve Jobs made in his working life, and when you apply your mind to your life — with an intransigent commitment to absolute excellence — every wonder you can conceive of is yours…