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August 24, 2011

The meaning of Steve

by Josh Bernoff

Steve jobs

I was very sad to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs today (October 5). The world needs more visionaries like this, but there are no others. My thoughts from when he resigned from Apple, in August . . .

So, Steve Jobs is gone -- resigned as CEO of Apple.

Consider, for a moment, the meaning of Steve.

By my count, Steve Jobs changed the world five times. Five.

He introduced the Apple II when I was a teenager. Sure, there were Altairs before, but there were no "personal" computers -- such a thing was unimaginable. After that, we knew anyone could own a computer. That changed everything.

He introduced the Macintosh when I was working at Software Arts, the company that created the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc. I remember the Mac's predecessor, the Lisa -- we had one in a special room behind a locked door. My 24-year-old mind saw it and boggled -- this was a completely different way to use a computer. Mouse, windows, icons, graphical UI -- and I saw what happened when children started playing with it and using "Paint." This would change everything. And it did. Sure, there was Xerox PARC, but it was Steve Jobs that changed everything.

After Jobs left Apple, it went way downhill, eventually under the unimaginative Gil Amelio. I actually wrote a piece about it for Forrester Research, with a heading that read "Wake Up And Smell The Toast." Toast it would have been, but Jobs came back.

When Apple introduced the iPod, the interface on the hardware was a revelation. Still, the iPod was just another music player until Jobs made iTunes happen. iTunes changed everything. The music industry turned inside out. A new device, microprocessor controlled, caught fire -- probably the first really significant one since the game console. Sure, there had been MP3 devices from the likes of Creative, but Steve Jobs changed the world -- made us realize what a cool device connected to a cool service could do. He changed the world again.

The iPhone changed the world. It changed the dynamics of the phone industry -- it was subsidized, but Apple controlled the interface, not the carriers. It became your real-time, all-the-time portal to the world, in your pocket. The apps, the multi-touch interface -- another revelation. It changed the world yet again -- now, increasingly, we all have devices like this in our pockets.

The iPad was the fifth change. It's destroying the PC industry with a new mode of interaction.

(If you want to stretch it, Pixar changed a whole industry, too. Call it five and a half times.)

Nobody else comes close.

Bill Gates changed the world twice -- once with DOS, and once with Windows.

Sergei Brin and Larry Page changed it once, with Google.

David Sarnoff once, with color television.

Tim Berners-Lee and then Marc Andreessen once, with the Web and the browser.

Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston once, with the spreadsheet.

No entrepreneur changes the whole world five times. Not since Edison, at last.

You can admit that Steve is out of all of our leagues. But what is the meaning of Steve? What can we learn?

One. Strategy - see the whole board. The content companies, the carriers, the hardware manufacturers, the engineers, the patents. Jobs saw not just what was possible, but what industries would be affected and how to bully, cajole, sweet-talk,and persuade them into working with him.

Two. Timing. As I mentioned, Jobs, was often not the first. But he saw what technologies were on the verge of being possible -- and what technologies consumers were ready to accept. There could have been no iPhone without the habits created by iPods and Blackberry, no Mac without Apple and IBM PCs embraced by those who came before. Timing is crucial.

Three. Supply chain and differentiation. Apple doesn't make flash memory, microprocessors, touchscreens, or, for the most part, Web sites. It just puts them all together. Profit margin comes from assembling commodities in a fantastic, must-have package.

Four. Design. Apple's products are the first family of computing devices that tell people about your style. The other ingredient is lots of advertising. Design plus advertising equals lust. Lust is good for an entrepreneur.

Five. Audacity. Imagine the impossible, possible. Persuade with showmanship. Make people believe.

None of us has all of these. But you, reading this, have some of them. You can be audacious and have great timing. You could excel at strategy and design. You can't be Steve Jobs. But you can learn from him. Work on it. If you want to change the world, now you know where to start. 

Image: Wikipedia


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Rayna Fagen

Beautiful post -- I don't think anyone has articulated it quite this well. Your admiration and respect clearly come through as does your love for a creative innovator that continuously raised the bar, seemingly for everyone.


I'd add the iMac to the list for at least another half. The iMac got Apple back on track with its computers. But it also led the transition away from the floppy disk and beige, boxy computers. It also caused a revolution of design across all consumer goods to add a bondi blue translucent plastic insert to be considered cool.

Glen Allan

Don't forget that the web was created on the back of NEXT computers... I'm not saying it is the same game changer, but he still got it and made it happen even then :)


You captured it perfectly, Josh. Thanks.

Charles Golvin

Six. Have the courage of your convictions. Apple doesn't do market research to determine what consumers want, it creates products that deliver great experiences, invests their heart and soul in making them as good as they can be, and trusts that consumers will like them as much as they do.


Seven. Advertising. '1984' - but also 'Think Different' (1998) - had an huge impact on the industry. For today it would be what I call Apple's 'cost effective rumour marketing.

Fred Levine

It is sad that everyone seems to have given STEVE a last call !!! Steve is still sound of mind and "can" still create and be viable in our worls ...... STEVE ISNT GONE ...... just allowing his creations to flourish .... long live Steve Jobs for a long time (dont count him out and gone)

Michael Fox

Very well written. Many do not understand that it was Jobs who drove the commercialization and availability of computing for the masses. It was once unusual for a family to have a computer at home. Now it is unusual to not have more than one.

In addition, Jobs taught us not to depend on asking the public what they want, and then deliver it. He taught us that outright, outrageous innovation, that takes the next logical step(s) away from the current mainstream, is not only acceptable, but is highly desirable.

Sometimes Jobs was ahead of the curve (NeXT, Newton), but he always learned, moved on, and came back with something better.

Jay Andersen

Great post Josh, both your writing and analysis. The comparisons to Edison are apt.

It will be fascinating to see how Tim Cook and other Apple leaders continue Steve's work. I hope he continues to have his fingerprints on Apple product,

Health Insurance

Can't imagine anyone could do a better job than Jobs. Sad to see him go. He will be missed.

iPhone App Design

No doubt Steve Jobs era was fascinating enough with the introduction of some fantastic technologies.Hope Tim comes up to the expectation.


Coming from a musician, I've seen his innovations radically transform my industry, for good or for worse.

I wrote an article about this recently:


Mauricio Papaleo

And Pixar??


Steve Jobs was an inspiration. He inspired me to start a vacation rental company! Ok, so it's not the same as inventing Apple or buying into Pixar, but inspiration is inspiration.


jason walker

THIS point is the one tat I think is most relevant to anyone wanting to follow in Steve's mighty footsteps:

Five. Audacity. Imagine the impossible, possible. Persuade with showmanship. Make people believe.

RIP Steve

HP Print Cartridge

Thank you for the technology left behind.RIP Steve Jobs

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