Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:55

Steve Jobs, A Life of Consequence

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Steve Jobs, A Life of Consequence

Barry MacDonald - Editorial

Steve Jobs, by Walter Issaacson. Simon & Schuster, 627pp., $35 hardbound.

Steve Jobs was a difficult man to be around; he was often needlessly cruel - with the penetrating intelligence to deeply wound - but he was also inspiring, prompting those he worked with to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Now it is hard to imagine life without computers or the Internet. Steve Jobs didn't invent the personal computer, his friend did, but he discovered how it could be used. He didn't invent the Internet, but he was pioneering in its use. Steve Jobs transformed our lives. Many Millions do business differently, do entertainment differently, through his influence.

Steve Jobs was inspired by the magic of electronics. His motivation was not to get rich, but to make wonderful products, and to build a lasting company. In his words he wanted to "put a dent in the universe." An early mentor taught him three guidelines: 1) understand and be intimate with the needs of customers better than any other company; 2) in order to do a good job focus only on essential services; and 3) because people really do judge a book by its cover, impute the high values of the company through all possible contact with customers, including advertising, sales, and even packaging.

His post-high school friend, Steve Wozniak, ("fifty times better than an average engineer" according to Steve Jobs) had the insight for the first stand-alone computer: a microprocessor, keyboard, and screen. Steve Jobs had the drive to sell the invention, the Apple I; they assembled fifty circuit boards in his parent's garage. Steve and Steve formed a partnership called Apple Computer - thus was the beginning in 1975 of what would become the world's most valuable company.

Steve Wozniak designed the Apple II with improved circuitry that became the first personal computer that ordinary people could use.

Apple took off with the introduction of the Macintosh. The Macintosh featured a bitmapped display, icons, and a point and click mouse. Steve Jobs refined Xerox's innovations to make the Macintosh user-friendly, so easy to use that customers could learn by doing, without needing a manual. He also gave priority to a pleasing design, making his engineers go to extraordinary lengths, and setting the Macintosh apart from the boxy versions of competitors. He aimed at a classic look that would never go out of style.

Steve Jobs excelled at "launching" products. He agonized over words, choreography, lighting. With the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad he staged event presentations at prestigious venues, making the introduction of each new product seem epochal. With tension building to a peak he whipped off a cover, revealing a gleaming new device. Whatever the product was, it was the most amazing thing Apple had ever done. (Maybe he was right!) He maximized publicity by captivating the media. Dozens of times he played the same tricks to create "blasts of publicity that were so powerful the frenzy would feed on itself, like a chain reaction." He created buzz and the nation took notice.

The ad campaign for the Macintosh in 1984 was stunning. At the time there was fierce competition in the market for personal computers. The cover headline of Business Week was: "Personal Computers: And the Winner Is . . . IBM."

Steve arranged a showdown with IBM, then called "Big Blue." He cast IBM in the role of Big Brother from George Orwell's novel 1984. In a sales meeting to rally his team he asked:

Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?

He hired the movie producer Ridley Scott to do an ad in London. A mass sat enthralled with a huge screen, with dozens of real London skinheads in the crowd. The setting was dominated by metallic grey hues, imposing a "cold industrial setting." A blonde female discus thrower was the heroine. She wore a white tank top emblazoned with a Macintosh; she came running forward with a sledgehammer. Just as Big Brother announced "We shall prevail!" the hammer "smashes the screen and it vaporizes in a flash of light and smoke."

Steve Jobs' attached to the Apple brand a "cyberpunk ethos," with customers, and Apple employees also, seeing themselves as "renegades out to foil the establishment," "rebels and hackers who thought differently."

When Apple's board of directors saw the ad most thought it was dreadful. They told Steve to sell back the time slot they had reserved for a Super Bowl showing. Steve and his ad agency pretended they were unable to sell back the slot; they gambled and went ahead. Walter Isaacson describes the impact of its appearance during Super Bowl XVIII:

. . . television screens across the nation went black for an ominous two full seconds. Then an eerie black-and-white image of drones marching to spooky music began to fill the screen. More than ninety-six million people watched an ad that was unlike any they'd seen before. At its end, as the drones watched in horror the vaporizing of Big Brother, an announcer calmly intoned, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

That night all three networks and fifty local news stories ran stories about the ad. The ad had unprecedented impact, eventually being selected by TV Guide and Advertising Age as the greatest commercial of all time. It was a smashing success.

Steve didn't invent everything himself, but he brought talented people together and led them, through terror or praise. He extracted every ounce of effort from his teams of "A players." The magic wouldn't have happened without him pushing. He didn't rely on market research, believing "customers don't know what they want until we've shown them."

Isaacson writes that Steve revolutionized six industries: "personal computers, animated movies (Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, etc.), music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing." And he "reimagined" the way retail stores were operated.

The iPod featured a drive capable of holding 1000 songs, ("1000 songs in your pocket!") a scroll wheel for navigating songs quickly, a FireWire connection to a Macintosh where the songs were arranged, and a high powered battery; all in a tiny, thin case.

When the iPod came out the music industry was troubled by Internet piracy; people were downloading songs without paying for them. The record companies had no idea how to prevent theft. Steve saw an opportunity. He persuaded the five top companies to allow digital versions of their songs to be sold in the iTunes Stores he created. Each song bought through iTunes cost 99 cents, the record companies kept 70 cents. This was the beauty of Steve's "end-to-end strategy": Sales at iTunes drove sales of iPods that drove sales of Macintoshes.

Steve believed that people would rather pay for songs than steal them if they could do so easily and cheaply, and he was right. The iTunes Store sold one million songs in the first six days, seventy million songs in the first year. Steve Jobs changed the way the music industry operated.

But the innovation didn't stop there. Usually major musicians charged a lot of money to appear in ads but that was not the case with Apple. Apple had become a brand cooler than the brand of most artists. Steve Jobs didn't have to pay them to appear in his ads, they wanted the opportunity he afforded to reach new people. Bob Dylan appeared in a television ad for the iPod, and his new album, Modern Times, reached number one on the Billboard in the first week. It was the first time Dylan reached the top spot in thirty years. Lead Singer Bono and his band U2 did the same for the same reasons.

The genius of Steve Jobs was that he knew most people want devices that are attractive and easy to use. His efforts were directed at eliminating confusion and he simplified, simplified, simplified. He did away with the off switch! Apple devices just go dormant when they are not used - who else would have thought of that? He wanted access to be no more than three "clicks" away, whether the product were an iPod, iPhone, or iPad. Walter Isaacson relates the experience of Michael Noer, a writer for Forbes.com. While Michael Noer was staying at a dairy farm in a rural area north of Bogota, Colombia:

. . . a poor six-year-old boy who cleaned the stables came up to him. Curious, Noer handed him the device [an iPad]. With no instruction, and never having seen a computer before, the boy started using it intuitively. He began swiping the screen, launching apps, playing a pinball game. "Steve Jobs has designed a powerful computer that an illiterate six-year-old can use without instruction," Noer wrote. "If that isn't magical, I don't know what is."

At the time of his resignation as CEO from Apple, soon followed by his death from cancer, Apple had become the world's most valuable company. Walter Isaacson sums up:

Steve Jobs became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world's most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.

Sincere soldiers read The Art of War, by Sun-tzu, an ancient Chinese General, to improve their skill. In the same way, anyone in business would benefit by reading Steve Jobs.

The following is from his "think different" ad campaign. It captures his, and Apple's, ethos:

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The Rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect of the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Of course, the proper place for this spirit is the private sector. Steve Jobs gave us technological innovation. Our methods of communication are vastly improved in few years. But he didn't change the character of human nature. The quality of what we say to each other is not changed by technological innovation.

Steve Jobs was not a gentle man. He bruised people deeply, belittling employees who didn't measure up. His daughter, Lisa, was born out of wedlock and he denied parentage in the face of DNA evidence. He did provide financial support, and did establish a sometimes warm relationship with Lisa in between periods of inattention and neglect. When asked why he hurt people he responded: "This is who I am."

Steve Jobs was flawed. And he is among the few, precious, people who have improved the lives of hundreds of millions - most won't even know his name. *

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