Steve Jobs – farewell

Trust that the dots will connect down the road, love what you do, and remember that you are going to die

TODAY October 5th 2011, we received the sad news that Steve Jobs has departed.

We are lucky to have lived during the same age as Steve Jobs, a man who has put a dent in the universe, and whose lasting impact will be remembered in the same breath as Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sir Isaac Newton.

If you have ever used a personal computer, listened to digital music, or used a smart phone, then Steve Jobs has changed the way that you experience the world.  For most of us it would be impossible to imagine using a PC without a mouse, but this is just one of the innovations that were introduced and popularised by Steve Jobs, the visionary.

In 1976, Jobs and his high school friend Stephen Wozniak started Apple in a suburban California garage. Wozniak designed the original Apple I computer to impress his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club and Jobs was immediately inspired.  Jobs saw its potential and took responsibility for marketing this creation to the world. (source: New York Times)

Jobs understood that ideas which spread win.  Apple has always appealed to a different kind of person. A person who believes that things can change, that the world can be a better place, and that we can make a difference.  Apple’s products personify this idea, and the Apple faithful purchase Apple products not merely as a consumption decision but as an expression of their personal identity.  Steve Jobs is their poster boy.

Jobs also understood that ideas which fail to spread lose … even if they embody more advanced technology. Apple has often been criticised by the tech-purists for selling shiny products which contain ordinary technology.  The amusing iPhone4 vs HTC Evo video reflects this lament.  Why would someone buy the iPhone4 when the HTC Evo is technologically superior?  Why indeed.  The answer, which Jobs intuitively understood, is fairly simple.  When you purchase the HTC Evo you only get a phone.  However, when you purchase the iPhone4 you also get to be part of the Apple community, to express your personal identity, and to tell a story about who you are and how the world might be one day.  “Things can be different, things can be better, we can change things.”

Jobs understood how to communicate his ideas effectively.  His keynote speeches at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference were extremely popular, were covered extensively by the international press, and were so effective at influencing software developers that they came to be referred to as his “reality distortion field.”  How did he do it?  One technique Jobs used consistently in his communications was the Rule of Three – a simple, powerful and effective tool that you can adopt to improve your speeches, reports and other communications.

Jobs used his powers of persuasion to change the world for the better.  His passion for pursuing the future, and bringing Apple and the rest of the world with him, was captured in his keynote speech at the Macworld Conference and Expo in January 2007 when he concluded by quoting ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky:

There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will.

Some would argue that skating passionately into an unknown future is not only risky, but foolish … and Jobs would probably have agreed.  His view of the world was shaped by the 1960s counterculture of the San Francisco Bay Area where he grew up.  And he identified one publication from that period as having a lasting impact on his life: “The Whole Earth Catalog”. Jobs recalled that it was an amazing publication which, after a few years in circulation, left a brief yet memorable farewell message on the back cover of its final issue:

“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”