Steve Jobs's Bicycles for the Mind
Steve Jobs logged off too soon. He was a serial innovator whose illness cost the world a bright talent who was also a great company leader. I hope that the music from the hymns of praise sung to him in his waning days is playing on his iPod as he ascends into the firmament of the greatest American business leaders. If there were a Nobel prize for business, surely he would have won it. He did what he set out to do and more. He saw the potential for computing power for the masses, useful and accessible to everyone. In a phrase that drove the early Apple, he created bicycles for the mind.
Jobs was all about mass personalization. The ubiquitous i of the iMac, iPhone, and iPad signaled individual as well as interactive in the user-friendly products he spawned.
In democratizing a technical field, Steve Jobs was the Henry Ford of his time. He turned computers into consumer products affordable by billions. Apple wasn't the biggest company — although Jobs lived to see a glorious moment when Apple's market cap shot ahead of Exxon's to be number one. But Apple consistently pushed the industry to change, playing the role of feisty fresh-faced free thinker. Apple was always a counterculture challenging establishments and going for the future — like the early emphasis on getting Apples into classrooms to help kids learn. Jobs was a co-founder but emerged as the business as well as technical leader. He didn't put his name on the door, although the Macintosh was named after his favorite apple, and company style reflected his tastes.
That was Apple round I. Jobs also had a comeback story rivaling any in business, a model for leadership development. He lured a former PepsiCo executive, John Scully, to the young Apple company, as his "adult supervision," only to find himself pushed out, in part due to excesses in the Mac division he headed. For a time it looked like Jobs was another faded icon, dabbling in a set of ventures hoping to recapture former glory or looking to prove Apple wrong. But he took advantage of opportunities, learned, and grew. He headed Pixar, a star in computer animation, and founded Next Computer. Next turned out to be his ticket back to Apple, when the underlying technology was sold to Apple.
His leadership pause refreshed and broadened him. As CEO of Apple round II, Jobs built a bigger and even more innovative company and it soared. Under the mature Jobs, Apple now understood how to enlist developers and other partners. Job's new bite of the Apple created products and platforms that made the computer less important than the content. He led the company into devices of the future, grabbing initial leadership in smartphones, and perhaps saved the online music business in passing. Even the Apple-Microsoft rivalry reflected the kind of competition that spurs innovation.
Jobs didn't start a dynasty, and he didn't take on world problems. He focused on Apple. He won't be known for the charitable foundations bearing his name or the good done afterwards but for the value created through new products during his lifetime. Jobs brought design from backroom to forethought, shook industry boundaries, challenged giants, and excited consumers. That is an enormous legacy that will stand the test of history.
For more commentary on Steve Jobs, see our special section, The Legacy of Steve Jobs.