A few weeks ago, I was asked by a reporter to come up with a list of individuals who had exerted influence over multiple industries and who had initiated global changes to culture. In short, people who changed the world from their positions as entrepreneurs (we excluded political leaders).
Henry Ford and Steve Jobs was about as long as the list got.
The depth of Jobs’ and Apple’s influence on computing, media and communications has been quite well documented before and since his return to Apple in 1997. (Probably the best obituary I’ve seen is the one John Markoff wrote in the New York Times here.)
What I always liked and admired about Jobs was that aesthetics and pure functionality never got sacrificed for technology or a feature just because the technology or tech-based feature was available. Everything from the iMac, to the MacBooks and the iPad not only looked cool and functional, they just were . . . logical. Intuitive. And sleek. There is no wasted space, no funky or clunky lines. I also really liked Steve’s sense of competition and his absolute sense of showmanship and salesmanship. He was and remains without peer in being able to sell a product, an idea and a vision. But there are plenty of places around to see examples of those innate traits. (I like this one a lot.)
When I consider what Apple products and Jobs have done to (or brought to) the media industry, the approach has been similar. iTunes, the online music store (initially), was brutally simple in terms of business: $.99/song, $9.99 (or maybe more) for an album. And those were price points that were fiercely resisted by the music industry. Music label execs were quoted as saying the industry was “experimenting” with these price points. Those same executives were also saying that they would be pleased if iTunes could sell 1 million downloads in its first six months. I think iTunes managed to do that in its first week of sales. And remember, the alternatives for the music industry, at the time of iTunes introduction in 2003, were a whole bunch worse. File-trading, initiated by Napster, social-CD-ripping (passing along a CD to friends, ripping it, passing it along to another) were rampant and rapidly devaluing the industry.
iTunes and iPod (and later the iPhone and iPad) made it cool and compelling to get people to actual pay for music at a time when many industry observers thought it couldn’t be done. Jobs and Apple delivered something those alternatives couldn’t: an ecosystem that “…just worked.” By 2011, iTunes boasted more than 250 million credit-card secured accounts of people who were paying for art. (And later applications.)
Steve Jobs and Apple reminded us all that you can change the world (and industries) if you make something people desire because it looks good and it functions as well as it looks.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Look around, though, and you see just how hard that really is to pull off one time, let alone do it repeatedly over many years. And that brings me to what I think is one of the most important aspects of Jobs’ legacy as a CEO/visionary: the ecosystem of Apple employees that work inside and outside of Apple and the approach to innovation that he built into the company’s DNA.
‘dios, Steve. We’re not going to see the likes of you anytime soon.