“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Apple TV Advertisement, 1997
Every day at 3:10pm when I was seven years old, I would get start to get excited, because school was about to finish. That meant in just a few minutes I could race home and carry on with my drawings. My father was the headmaster, and he had decided to buy a Macintosh for the school bursar, who happened my mother, to do the accounting. Using a computer saved her hours of filling in forms and doing manual calculations, but that was not why I was excited, as I perched myself on her office chair and double clicked ‘MacDraw’. I would play for hours in this simple application, letting my creations come to life, experimenting with digital ink, simple lines, circles and patterns on the black and white screen.
Macintosh Operating System 1.1, 1984
When I was 13 I got my first mac, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was just after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. I remember seeing a poster at my high school with the Apple logo, that simply said ‘Think Different’. I liked that a lot. It didn’t look like an advertisement, it looked like advice for life. In the mid nineties Windows was taking an aggressive lead in the home computer OS m
arket and I was made fun of by my friends for using and defending Apple. When Mac OS X came out in 2000, I was very excited because it was based on UNIX, more powerful, safer, and more stable, but my excitement only made my friends laugh more. Interestingly, now half of them have iPhones which run the mobile version of OS X: iOS.
It is a reminder that Apple was not always cool and popular, a reminder that the company made a monumental comeback at the hands of Jobs. After his return in 1996, he swiftly began work on the iMac and the iPod, launched in 1998 and 2001 respectively, and thus began a line of increasingly popular products designed with high utility, yet beautiful simplicity. Jobs has left behind a legacy of products that have revolutionised personal computing, and changed many lives for the better. It’s hard to imagine what the personal computer, music, and phone industry would be like if it wasn’t for Apple. You may not agree with Apple’s closed product philosophy, but you can’t deny their massive influence in multiple markets. Jobs has left us a lasting legacy of amazing products and ideas, and a company with a mission to continue innovating and transforming our experience of a product. This is his first gift: the legacy of products and market changing innovations.
But what of the man himself? How do we make sense of the overly critical, hypersensitive, super-passionate genius who frequently behaved in ways we wouldn’t tolerate in even the most forward thinking and modern organisation? I think the answer is, most of us can’t make sense of it, but we can still learn from him. The idea that someone with so much darkness was also able to rise up so high is not unique, of course; it is the paradoxical nature of every hero in every good story ever told. Somehow it’s the controversial ones, the flawed ones, and the ones who are at extremes in the personality spectrum who make a dent in our universe, leaving the rest of us behind in the dust, stunned.
It is probably harder for a western mind to understand this paradox than an eastern one. In the West we tend to categorise things, as indeed Jobs often did himself, as either good or bad, perfect or terrible, you either like it or you hate it. Here in Asia they have a better grasp of how everything, including people, are both positive and negative at the same time. Jobs was a both the Ying and the Yang, pulled to both extremes, highly brilliant and highly flawed. For the rest of us swimming around somewhere in the middle of this sea of consciousness, trying not to appear too stupid in life, he doesn’t make much sense.
Steve Jobs, 1984
Yet to Jobs, it’s likely most of the rest of us didn’t make sense. Much of his character traits appear to echo a deep-set belief that ‘You are already naked’, meaning your days alive are limited, so why waste time conforming? “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Jobs said during his speech to Sanford Graduates in 2005. How many of us would like to truly be able to live every day as if it’s our last? Jobs left behind him a trail of evidence of someone who consistently managed to fight passionately for what he believed in, rather than succumb to the drone of acceptability. He is living proof that it is possible to live a high engaged, energetic life following your heart.
And then there’s his massive and very public moment of failure, which is the most important part of his stranger than fiction story. Jobs’ dark side caught up with him, and still under the spotlight of public attention, he was forced out of Apple, the company he’d almost single handedly built. But he quickly picked himself back up and got back to doing what he loved doing, showing the world he was not through. His failure also taught him about his dark side, and in turn enabled him to grow. This theme of growth through failure is one of the most important lessons of life, and again, his life story is proof of this. Real heroes are not perfectly shiny, and they have all, in one form or another, suffered a great setback in their lives. Rather than being a straight – running success, Jobs was knocked hard, only to pick himself up again, eventually to return to Apple.
Apple Market Cap, 1981 – 2011
And what a comeback – a more mature, but equally determined man, who’d been but a youth when he left, returned to lead Apple to one success after another. Some call it ‘the greatest second act in the history of business’. Jobs proved that perseverance and great passion in what you do can overcome the inertia of what the world told you you just couldn’t try to do. In a world that whispers to us to be balanced, stay cool, and get an MBA, Steve Jobs carved out a completely different path, showing that other realities exist beyond what most of us take for granted. And so it was that the boy of 70s counter-culture California, determined and unafraid to fail, gave us his second gifts: that of his story.
When Jobs died an early death, I began looking back at his life in more detail, and these powerful themes of passion, failure, and the paradoxical hero popped out of his story. Despite having been an avid Apple product fan my whole life, I realised that the gift of his inspiration; his larger than life personality, was worth a lot more than his products. He not only gave us the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone. He taught us to work hard for what we believe in and what we love. He demonstrated that the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who really do. And he truly showed us the meaning of ‘Think Different’. Thank you, Steve, you will be missed, and appreciated, for a long time.
Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011
Nick Adams, November 2011