Others more well-informed than I will write about the impact Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, had on the world of technology – and through technology, on the world. His death today speaks to me of something else. Whatever else he was in terms of innovation, collaboration, invention – Steve Jobs was a man of ideas, a man of dreams. He seemed able to see things that were not yet and chart a course to their becoming, and along the way somehow make the idea even better than it was. He made mistakes – no one striving for better doesn’t. Some of his mistakes became the seed of a new ideas that drew him forward into a future that it took the rest of us a while to catch up to. He seemed able to see connections between previously discrete pieces of technology that would yield an outcome greater than the sum of the parts.
He knew the power of an image. More than just a brand, his way with an image, a picture, an icon, captured the imagination of those seeing it for the first time. The single play commercial during the Super Bowl of 1984 introducing the Macintosh computer – without ever once showing the computer! The details mattered. Even down to the packaging – sleek, tactile, a perfect match between form and function. MP3 players had existed for a while – but when Jobs introduced the iPod, everything changed. It wasn’t a music player for technicians. It was a music player for music listeners. Cell phones had been around for years – but the iPhone became the must have, mostly for reasons having nothing to do with making phone calls – but everything to do with the lifestyle of the person making the calls.
Relentless focus on the idea was matched with equally relentless focus on the image of the idea. And with an equally relentless focus on simple usability. The idea that a new product should just work. Period. Right out of the box. Amazing. And not just work, but work with a quirky sense of humor and close to flawlessly.
Was all this the product of the genius of Steve Jobs? I suppose we will see in the years to come. What comes after the founder tells the real tale.
But in the meantime, his death has given me pause. I have appreciated his gifts – ideas, images, usefulness. And wonder, what gifts might I have to give – ideas, images, usefulness. It gives me pause. As should, perhaps, the death of any artist, craftsman, creator.