I began a blog an entirely different topic as news of Steve Jobs passing arrived. My fingers left the keyboard of my MacBook to grab my iPhone, where I saw the news. I switched off my smart playlist in iTunes, selected a few Dylan and Beatles tunes to repeat, and spent much of my day reading tributes and considering this man’s impact.
It was hard not to be struck by the breadth and sincerity of comment by the iconic entrepreneurs of our day. Richard Branson called him “the entrepreneur I’ve most admired.” Bill Gates said Steve’s impact would be felt for generations. Larry Ellison agreed, saying he thought Steve would be the only Silicon Valley exec to be remembered widely in 100 years. Larry Page credited Jobs for his focus on user experience as a central inspiration for Google. Mark Zuckerberg said Jobs’ work changed the world. Rupert Murdoch called him “simply the best CEO” of his generation.
These ovations from our business leaders speak volumes, but they seem to miss something about the impact of this man and his influence on our culture. It was the iPod and iTunes that finally brought home to me what Marshall McLuhan meant with his thesis that the medium is the message. The medium has become an extension of ourselves, personalized almost without limits to suit our tastes and express our aspirations more than any medium before. Perhaps only the web itself has had a more profound impact on not only how we consume information, but what we consume, and the variety of what’s available to us. Job helped to establish a new ecosystem for information, and a new expectation of accessibility that’s truly changed world culture.
Perhaps the parting “but wait, there’s just one more thing” that Steve leaves us with will be the impact he’s had on our rubric for evaluating the tech products we use, and who we allow to become our most celebrated tech visionaries and leaders. He’s stretched those rubrics from “well designed” or “efficient” to products of such quality and elegance that they produce real delight in their use. The products he delivered were truly “disruptive,” with swaths of deadwood in their wake, and utterly beyond the iterative fare that tech marketers apply that label to so easily. And no one that aspires to leadership in a technology company can look at the outpouring by his employees without awe—he inspired his employees in ways that truly changed lives. In all, may our meditations against his yardstick bring both greater humility for those that aspire to lead, and greater passion for getting it right by those that do.