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October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs - Gone but Never to be Forgotten

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor
Back in August with Steve Jobs (News - Alert) resigned from being Apple’s CEO I wrote a long tribute about his extraordinary contributions and his unique multi-faceted genius. What I did not say then, but will say now are two of the most important words in any language, THANK YOU!

The Business Inside website has a nice compilation of Job’s most memorable quotes.  I have two favorites which happened to have made the list:

Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” (The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 1993)

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” (Stanford commencement speech, June 2005)

Jobs along with a lot of things understood his mortality. As has already been recounted in numerous places, he was abrupt, nasty and suffered fools poorly. However, he was charismatic, a perfectionist and knew how to get the most out of people. Along with his incredible success, the road was marked by spectacular and well-documented failures. Interestingly, he attributes much of his success from having learned some very hard lessons from failing personally and professionally. That is an important lesson for us all.

The first quote is something that strikes me as the reason today I, like many others of my generation, am feeling the same sense of loss as was felt on the days after former Beatle John Lennon was killed. Both men died way too early. Both were focused not just on trying to take advantage of changes in the world, but from different perspectives tried to change the world by doing something wonderful. They both succeeded, and our lives were forever transformed.  

Steve Jobs is a uniquely American story. Not just rags to riches, but a risk taker who was never content with the status quo. Plus, in a world where much of the U.S. GDP comes from things like financial services and real estate, Steve Jobs made money and created jobs the old fashion way, he built things —devices, software, new ways of retailing and a prosperous ecosystem.

He may be irreplaceable as the indefatigable leader of Apple (News - Alert), but as a permanent inspiration for those with a creative spark and a passion to pursue it to build a better future as a country we had better make sure that mold which believes in building things stays in good shape.

We’ve had a running debate in the office today about what Steve Jobs’ most important contribution was to the transformation of the way we live and work and view the increasingly blurring distinction between the two. Some said the Mac because it brought computing into the home. Others argued it was the combination of the iPod and iTunes which overthrew the music industry and was the precursor of the App Store and the transactional foundation that validated cloud computing. Still others thought that it is actually the software that drives all of the devices that should get #1 billing, or his introduction of the Apple Stores which are transforming retail experiences globally. I voted first for the Newton. Yes, from failure came the iPhone (News - Alert) and the iPad.

Upon reflection, and as much pleasure as such conversations now taking place around the world, Steve Jobs greatest device contribution was the vision machine known as Steve Jobs, warts and all. Steve Jobs put the “I” in technology development. It wasn’t just that he could see things we needed before we knew we did and then convince us he was right. It was that he never wavered from the laser-like attention to continuously improving the customer experience.

Steve Jobs’ product introductions were must see events because he had the uncanny ability of weaving in product attributes into true value statements. They always were about how “wonderful” it was going to be to do things in new ways. He invited us into a world where we had certainty that he really had awakening, enhancing and enriching us (the communal “I”) foremost in his efforts. Because he rarely if ever disappointed, the creation of a communal comfort zone has taken on the characteristics of a cult. And, in the social media world, he in large measure created by enticing all of us to have first a computer and then handheld devices of amazing functionality and yes, grace; we willingly became converts.

We are all going to miss Steve Jobs for personal reasons and for those of us in the press, for professional ones as well.

Going back to the John Lennon analogy for a moment -- and for some the day Elvis Presley passed away probably ranks right up there as well -- they provided the musical score and context for us at critical moments in our lives, which is why the impact remains profound. Steve Jobs was even more impactful because he enabled us to adapt that score and context to changing circumstance by empowering us to cause and control the changes. As a result he transcended generational differences and spoke a global language, the language of “I”

So on a day of remembrance, I think we should all remember to say a simple THANK YOU Steve.  

Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya (News - Alert), Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel, France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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