My first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games. I had to do the TRS-80 Model I before I got to work on an Apple ][, but I finally bought a ][e, and sold it to my company shortly thereafter as I headed off to graduate school. I was a grad student in an HCI lab (with Donald Norman, who went on to become an Apple Fellow), and so I was very aware of the Macintosh (I’d coveted a Lisa before that), and bought a Mac II to write my PhD thesis on. Since then I’ve only used Macs as my main machine (tho’ there has been the odd PC around the house). And that’s quite a few; in my office right now is an iMac DV, a Powerbook Wallstreet and also a G4, as well as an old and a new MacBook Pro, iPhone, and an iPad.
And let’s not dismiss the software. Despite some quirks, the OS has a solid foundation, and the interface experience on top of it is pretty good. I learned HyperCard (even though I’d moved on from programming), love Keynote, think Pages is *almost* there (the outlining is not quite yet industrial strength), etc. So you can imagine it was with some unexpected sadness that I learned about the passing of Steve Jobs.
Enough has been said about the fact that it wasn’t just the surface design, but his insistence on a comprehensive user experience. It has also already been covered that it was much more than that, it was the insight into the market, e.g. not just the iPod, but iTunes. Not just the iPhone, but the whole reengineering of the relationship between hardware provider and telcos. Industry-changing stuff, and absolutely true. But I want to talk about one other thing that has somewhat passed under the radar.
How many of you would have liked to work for Apple? You didn’t hear much about it, like you might with Google, but it seemed like a pretty cool place to hang out. And there are two aspects to this. One is that you didn’t hear much. In the notoriously gossipy Silicon Valley, Apple was remarkably resistant to leaks. I think this is reflective of the other component. While you can install some pretty rigorous constraints, I think you do better if you instill some loyalty. And I think that while Jobs was at times dictatorial, as has come out, I think he did it through selling a vision inside the company as well as outside.
It has been said that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship (the only problem is ensuring the benevolent part), and I think Steve Jobs made a company doing things worth getting behind, and I suspect that it was pretty easy to go along with some of the constraints because you knew why they were there. But it has to also be a place where you can make mistakes, as Steve made them himself, starting with the Apple ///. I think that Apple has wanted the best, but rewarded folks for being that, too.
This is all inference, as I never worked there, and haven’t discussed it with the few people I’ve known who worked there. But some pretty fabulous stuff has come from there, and it can’t all be one person. So I just wanted to acknowledge that he not only built products, and a company, but a culture that allowed the company to succeed, wildly. I’m somewhat skeptical of the ability to use a university model to develop executives who can perpetuate the Apple success, but the fact that they’re trying is worthy of consideration. I think they can continue to succeed, but I hope that they have some other approaches too.
And, that, to me, is a lesson to take away from this. Steve Jobs was inspiring, but he recognized it was more than just luck, it was a habit of mind that can be developed. Not only do you have to pursue your dream, but there are skills and habits of mind that go along with it. And if you recognize that, identify those skills, model them, develop them, and reward them, you can build a successful company.