Steve Jobs: The American Odyssey
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In the years since Apple's founding in 1976 until his death at 56 years old on Oct. 5, Steve Jobs moved from being a player in the technology industry to being THE moving force in technology, business and social creation. Along the way, Jobs led a life that became a worldwide model for entrepreneurs and led a purposeful life without compromising his principles of creating "insanely" great products which were flawless in execution, elegant in design and accessible to a global community. That is a long and full journey from exhibiting an Apple ll at the West Coast Computer Faire in 1977 to becoming an iconic public figure on the scale of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and, just maybe, Leonardo da Vinci.
I'm not sure about the Leonardo part (we'll have to wait a few centuries for the verdict), but I am sure that for those of us who grew up taking part in the technology industry, Jobs was a singular visionary who not only had the vision, but could transform that vision into products that reset the tech business again and again. Business is too often seen as a world of compromise and incremental change characterized as great leaps forward. Jobs and Apple (and Pixar) created a business out of true innovation and proving that the most intelligent use of new technology is to hide complexity and present the user with simplicity with underlying power.
In addition to the successes of the Mac, iPad, iTunes, iPhone and onwards, what makes Jobs' journey a true Odyssey was his ability to overcome adversity. His early personal life was not without fault. His business history included the Lisa computer, NeXT Computer, getting tossed out of Apple and his struggle with cancer which led to his death at the too-soon age of 56.
Here are what I think are the five greatest contributions to the business world from Steve Jobs:
1. Vision. Jobs had an ability to foresee what consumers would want from technology even if they weren't aware of their needs. In an era when business strategies can be subverted by too much information on market trends, consumer tastes and an endless stream of social network driving statistics, Jobs had the ability to stay ahead of the business herd.
2. The ability to turn the vision into a product or service. Vision is one thing and too often business vision gets churned into me-too products and compromised service. Jobs wasn't an engineer, but he knew how to drive engineering staffs to produce products that were prescient in their ability to use existing technology to create new capabilities.
3. Marketing. Steve Jobs and the Apple brand became synonymous. An appearance by Steve Jobs was a major marketing event and garnered worldwide attention. His ability to captivate an audience is legendary.
4. Risk Taking. The reluctance of a company to take risk leads to boring incrementalism and companies struggling to gain a point or two of market share. Without a company leader not only showing the ability but an absolute love of risk, a company can never become a leader.
5. Self confidence. Self confidence is not just a personal trait but is also a business trait. Confident leaders produce confident sales, marketing and manufacturing organizations. Jobs had confidence when all others moaned that tablets had been tried and failed, phones needed lots of buttons and the music industry would never allow a technology vendor to peddle their tunes.
Jobs was a baby boomer who became a worldwide model for vision, intelligence, perseverance and success. His odyssey was personal, but like the other, older Odyssey, the story provides a model for how to live a full life.