Few people in the modern industrialised world haven’t got something to thank Steve Jobs for. Some of his legacy’s very obvious, some it goes much further than the products themselves and is less so – cultural narratives of empowerment we’re only beginning to fully appreciate in reflection.
Absence is, sadly, often a way to view true value.
The ‘blow the top off my head off’ moment for me, and my first encounter with Steve Jobs’ genius, came in 1984. As a 23 year old account manager, I was given the job of producing the first advertising that Apple ever did in the UK.
It was nothing as glamorous as the famous Ridley Scott ads shaking up the States at the time. The budgets they had over there were way beyond what we had. Apple was still a relatively fledgling company and we were a new market, but we did get to do some classy and arresting black and white advertising in the quality press, perfect for the slightly unconventional architects, creative agencies and other firms that Apple were pitching to at the time.
What was really great about the gig though was the free prize that came with it, an Apple MkII that cost £5,000 installed in my office. £5,000! That alone made it a bit special. But when I got to move that mouse and wiggle a MacPaint digital spray can around a screen that it did it for me. Nothing like it had ever existed. It was a wow moment, a creative wonder that went way beyond working, and I was sold.
I think I can honestly say I can put my entire love affair with geekery down to that moment, just in the same way a stroll down the Kings Road at the age of 11 made me fall in love with creative design. Those moments are visceral, they go deep down and they stay with you.
A whole plethora of stories of Steve’s insight, vision, daring, focus and social impact have been unbundled as he steps down as CEO, and the reputation of the man, how it’s translated into serious dollars and cents in a way that has briefly made Apple this week the world’s largest company, is worth thinking about. Because Apple, despite everything about it that has been about product design, has also been about the quality of its people.
Brands like Apple are personality-led. Their culture, values and ways of doing things, built from and inspired by passion, have set it apart. And what stood out in the tributes for me is Robert Scoble’s take on something very important, nothing to do with the shiny sleek surface design that Apple’s renowned for.
What Robert Scoble’s said about what was special about Steve Jobs was this: Steve’s the ‘only one guy in the industry [that] has ever told me to look at the back of a product to understand its beauty’.
It’s worth considering that back in the day when Apple was spawned, user-friendly was a term that didn’t exist before then. Quite simply, no-one had ever thought of things that way.
Now, user-friendliness has become a holistic user experience. As organisations and all their touchpoints become more social, we can all learn a great deal from that little piece of Steve’s wisdom.
The look and feel of a product, the way Apple approached it, was ground breaking, it still is. Product focus is still important, but needs service and making meaning attached to it, now, to matter.
Today, the ‘back of the product’ is its people.
What makes Apple distinctive is the legions of fanboys and girls, people happy to be defined in no small measure by that ethos and what it’s led to for them.
Social organisations are all about this. Falling in love with the back of the product and understanding its beauty in the social organisation is about bringing out the people who are a part of it, making connections that go way beyond technical.
We can take people out of the boxes they live in within organisations and make more of them, relishing the inventiveness and creativity they have inherently. We can produce things of wonder as connected networks, like Steve Jobs did. The intellectual understanding and emotional commitment is there, often disaffected and unused; as with a technology reinvented and re-imagined, with guidance, vision and social leadership, it can transform, in just the same way he did it.
Business didn’t used to be personal. Now it is.
Steve Jobs’ focus can live on in a new way.