Apple and the Legacy of Steve Jobs

You might have heard that the CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, has taken an indefinite medical leave. This is the third time in the last ten years that Steve Jobs has stepped aside from the biggest technology company in the United States.

If you don’t know much about the company or Steve Jobs’s nature, then there is one article that is an absolute must-read. It is this Esquire piece, written by Tom Junod in 2008. It may appear dated, but it’s as every bit as relevant today as when it was first published. I highlight a few quotes which grabbed my attention

On Steve Jobs’s health and perseverance:

Steve Jobs has been saying that Steve Jobs is dying for years. From the beginning, death has been the hellhound on his trail; from the beginning, he has based his claim on immortality on the knowledge that he isn’t going to make it. In the commencement speech he gave to the graduates of Stanford University a year after his cancer surgery, he diagnosed himself as “fine now,” and hopeful to live “a few more decades.” At the same time, he spoke of death as though it were a new Apple product — that is, as “very likely the single best invention of life.” He said that since he was seventeen, “I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”

I love this passage on the bravado and Jobs’s stubborn demeanor. Must he always win?

Nobody wants to be the guy who points out that Jobs is “an obnoxious asshole” or “just a horrifying human being” — because then Jobs has already won, simply on the basis of scale. Better to be the ex-Apple-employee who says, “The question is not whether he’s an asshole. That’s beside the point. The question is whether he [Steve Jobs] can be an asshole and a good Buddhist.” Now, that’s a good one, because it concedes the obvious and moves on to the question of whether Jobs’s epic simplifications hide, well, inconsistencies. How can the Buddhist — the strict vegetarian — squash so many people like bugs? How can the Apollonian artist of our technological moment also be the Machiavellian corporate executive? How can the guy who implicitly put himself in league with Gandhi, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Martin Luther King while urging us to “think different” think, in fact, only of winning? “For most people, he’ll go down in history as the guy who made technology user-friendly,” says one executive. “But to people in business, he’ll be remembered as the guy who only did deals where he had all the leverage — and used every bit of it. It’s not enough that he wins. You have to lose. He’s completely unreasonable.”

That part about you having to lose, that’s gladiatorial. I was immediately reminded of Derek Sivers’s post “The Day Steve Jobs Dissed Me in a Keynote.” I highly recommend reading it.

An excellent paragraph about Jobs’s ruthlessness (if you weren’t getting the picture just yet). But also: why are Apple products something the consumers desire so much?

Now they start with what makes an existing experience crappy. And that’s where Jobs is a genius. That’s where his ruthlessness comes in. He’s ruthless with himself, ruthless with other people — he’s also ruthless with technology. He knows exactly what makes it work, and what makes it suck. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but they sucked. So he’s like, Okay, what do we have to do so that they don’t suck? Same with the iPhone. A lot of phones had Web browsers before the iPhone, but nobody used them. Why? Because they sucked. Now even people without iPhones are using the Web browsers on their cell phones. But that’s because of the iPhone. And that’s what he does. He makes the experience of technology better.”

Lastly, I love this wisdom from Steve Jobs: shortly after he showed off the iPad last year, Steve Jobs was asked what consumer and market research guided its creation. Steve Jobs’s response was illuminating:

None.  It isn’t the consumer’s job to know what they want.

There’s a lot more in the Esquire piece which I didn’t highlight here. If you have a half hour, I highly recommend reading the entire piece. It paints a portrait of Steve Jobs better than any I’ve ever read.

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