Thursday, October 06, 2011

"Without Steve Jobs, Where's the Excitement Going to Come From?"

...said a tech reporter on CNN last night.

In my lifetime a businessman's death had never merited the above-the-fold headline in the newspaper. Until this morning.

The passing of Steve Jobs was the lead story in not only the national dead-tree press but also the major TV networks and the most trafficked portals of the World Wide Web. (Here are the Steve Jobs bios from the NYT, the WSJ, and the LAT.)

Most of us who live in the Bay Area never met Steve in person, but we lived in his world. We bought Apple IIs and (sigh) Apple IIIs. Everyone knew someone who worked at Apple; we heard scuttlebutt about great secret stuff in the Cupertino labs. We switched to Excel, just because it came out on the Mac, when everyone else was using 1-2-3 spreadsheets on the PC.

We dreamed big because of Steve. Sure, Hewlett and Packard started up in the garage, but H & P did it in 1939. The two Steves showed that garages still were magic in the '70's. Inspired by their example many Bay Area denizens quit their corporate jobs and tried their luck. Most of us failed the first time out, but having caught the bug and lost the fear, we kept trying until we did make it.

The kids of Apple doffed their ties early, quickly followed by the rest of the Valley. It took a couple of decades for business casual to conquer the final redoubts in San Francisco's financial district. You couldn't tell who was rich or important by the way people dressed, so you had to treat everyone as if they were a millionaire.

When Steve was fired in 1985, he looked like just another guy who had reached his level of incompetence.

After the ministrations of a series of conventional CEO's failed, Steve returned to a nearly bankrupt Apple in 1997 and initiated the most remarkable turnaround in business history.

All is sweetness and light now, but at the time he made some ruthless decisions that tested the loyalty of the Apple faithful. He killed the clone licensing program, thereby accelerating their demise. (A $2,000 Power Computing clone that I had purchased in 1994 was nearly worthless three years later, and $2K was real money back then).

The new iBooks and iMacs looked interesting, but familiar ports were gone, replaced by a newfangled Universal Serial Bus that required us to buy USB printers and other peripheral devices. And where was the built-in floppy disk drive (available only as an external extra)? How were we supposed to move data from computer to computer?

As the vastly larger PC universe adopted Steve's changes, we began to trust his vision. As Steve's judgment proved correct at each major fork in the road, our caution gave way to anticipation, then overwhelming excitement.

Of course we stood in line for the "insanely great" product that Apple was about to release--available on-line or in the Apple store in the next 30 days--but what we were really eager to see was which entire industry was going to be created, upended, or destroyed in the next couple of years.

Steve Jobs has been compared to Edison, Disney, Rockefeller, and post-Industrial Revolution business titans. Perhaps it's not too much of an overstatement to reach further back in history for the apt comparison---Steve Jobs was both visionary Oracle and young Alexander, who died with worlds left to conquer. R.I.P. © 2011 Stephen Yuen

1 comment:

Kim said...

Thanks Steve!

When I learned that Steve Jobs had died I felt the same way I felt when I heard that John Lennon was dead... emotionally stunned and overwhelmed. To this very day, however, I continue to be inspired by John Lennon... and I will continue to be inspired by Steve Jobs. Exceptional and transcendent humans.

- K