Oct 312011
Steve Jobs and Laurene Powell

Steve Jobs and Laurene Powell

Sad, funny, and thought-provoking.

With all that has been said and written about Steve Jobs, this one stands out. Mona Simpson’s eulogy for her brother, delivered October 16th and published this Sunday in the New York Times. Put aside a few minutes to read and reflect on it. As she said:

We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.

How true of Steve. How true of us all.

Oct 212011
Steve Wozniak at Apple Store

Steve Wozniak at Apple Store - ABC News

Jobs died 16 days ago but the tributes continue this week. Apple held a memorial event on the campus in Cupertino with performances by Randy Newman, Norah Jones (doing a cover of Dylan’s “Forever Young”) and Coldplay. Apple stores closed for the event and there is now a memorial page on the Apple Web site where you can read a few of the million messages Apple has received and add your own thoughts/reflections about his passing.

The iPhone 4S was released with 4 million units sold over Friday through Sunday last weekend (double the iPhone 4′s original record for an opening weekend), with long lines at the stores and, fittingly enough, Steve Wozniack as number one in line at an Apple store in San Francisco.

At EDUCAUSE, I had a chance to hear Danah Boyd (NYU professor and Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research) on how kids continually negotiate the arenas of privacy and identity in social networks.  But while the issue here was behavior and not technology, you couldn’t help but wonder about the underlying role played by Jobs; the iPhone was a game-changing device that rethought the interface from the ground up and pushed phone manufacturers in a new direction. With easy-to-use portable devices, social networks become truly ubiquitous and for a younger generation the boundaries between the face-to-face and online worlds are increasingly fluid. In fact, there is no “and” here – they blend together as a continuum.

Back at the Apple site, the tributes pour in from all over the world. Jobs played an out-sized role when he was here, but may well step into an even larger one now that he’s gone.

Apple Storefront with Post-it Notes

Apple Storefront

Oct 102011

If there was a common thread throughout the disparate views of Jobs, it would be his focus on those who have shaped our culture, who thought differently – who thought outside the box, who were mavericks (sorry Sarah, you’re not even on the same planet). So Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign embodied what he celebrated in human beings, what he held up as the ideal – and love or hate him, agree or disagree with him, everyone knew the type of person he idealized.

So here is the first Think Different commercial, with one major difference: Steve Jobs is the narrator. Shot in 1997, it would never run as the final voiceover would be done by Richard Dreyfuss. Did Jobs do this just to set the tone? Did he originally plan to do the narrations for the entire ad campaign? Or did the ad with his voice fall short of his own extreme standards of perfection? We’ll probably never know, but it’s fascinating to watch while listening to him do the narration.

Oct 092011

Apple Campus, 1 Infinite Loop - Sign

Steve Jobs was well known as an impossibly difficult person to work for, generating both fierce loyalty and profound fear among employees. For all the words written this week, one of the most striking articles was done back in May by Adam Lashinsky (Senior Editor at Large at Fortune). It provides more details than most on the work environment inside the headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA, a near impossible task given Apple’s secrecy (even former staff members are reticent to talk openly about their experience). It also has an insufferably long title, “From Steve Jobs down to the janitor: How America’s most successful – and most secretive – big company really operates.

You know in something like this there will be stories of Jobs elevating or demoting staff based on his immediate reaction to their work. And it doesn’t disappoint with a recounting of a meeting between him and the development team for MobileMe. At one point, he’s not happy with MobileMe, calls the team together, rips into the entire group and before the meeting was over, had replaced the person in charge of the project. In short, you produced, or you got out of the way. As former staff Andrew Borovsky, a former Apple designer who runs the New York design shop 80/20 put it:

On a regular basis you either get positive feedback or are told to stop doing stupid shit.

The Inner Circle: (from left) Jonathan Ive, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, and Scott Forstall, on the Apple campus in 2010.

But the most fascinating insights comes not from these accounts but from the way Steve Jobs reinvented Apple, creating one of the world’s largest technology companies that had the heart and soul of start-up just getting off the ground. Perhaps not surprising given that he was involved in all facets of the company from food in the cafeteria to the design of the buses that carried employees back and forth from San Francisco.

So here’s what is striking in an environment with a single-minded focus on detail, deeply secretive, and where constant (and unforgiving) feedback was the norm:

  • The creative process involved continually preparing someone – “be it one’s boss, one’s boss’s boss, or oneself” – to make a presentation to him. And everything rode on these presentations.
  • Jobs liked to tell a story of a janitor who didn’t empty the garbage in an office for days as the locks had been changed. The janitor had a reason – and a valid one at that – as he didn’t have the keys, but as you move up the increasing levels of responsibility to a VP, reasons simply become excuses. They no longer matter, serving only as justifications for failure.
  • Every facet of every project, every meeting agenda, and every action item that came out of meetings seemed to have a DRI – a Directly Responsible Individual.
  • Only one person – the Chief Financial Officer – focused specifically on P/L, profit and loss. Everyone else keeps their eye on process and products.
  • Specialization is the key. Each person focuses on one thing and does it best-in-class. For, example Ron Johnson who handles Apple’s retail stores doesn’t have to deal with inventory as that was handled by Tim Cook.

An executive who worked at both Microsoft and Apple described the different corporate visions this way:

Microsoft (MSFT) tries to find pockets of unrealized revenue and then figures out what to make. Apple is just the opposite: It thinks of great products, then sells them. Prototypes and demos always come before spreadsheets.

And that was Steve Jobs. He created a work environment that had the agility, flexibility and the ruthlessness to act like a start-up even though it has 50,000 employees, almost 100 billion in revenue and a 60% growth rate. And just how successful was this approach? I don’t want to fall back on numbers, but the following chart reveal an astonishing record:


Apple Under Steve Jobs - 1997-2011

You didn’t need a spreadsheet; you needed an idea and a means of executing it. If you focused solely on the product, and organized everyone around functions instead of reporting lines and profit and loss, the rest would take care of itself.

And indeed, it has.

Oct 072011

No one has counted the number of times Steve Job was on a magazine cover (though he made eight on Time magazine), but he had a public image that personified innovation and was the public face of Apple. He jealously guarded his privacy and his personal life was strictly off-limits.

But the personal was there and Lisen Stromberg’s article (which has long gone viral) paints a fascinating portrait, one of a neighbor who dressed up like Frankenstein for Halloween, went to Parent/Teachers nights, and shed tears at his son’s graduation:

While Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and CNET continue to drone on about the impact of the Steve Jobs era, I won’t be pondering the MacBook Air I write on or the iPhone I talk on. I will think of the day I saw him at his son’s high school graduation. There Steve stood, tears streaming down his cheeks, his smile wide and proud, as his son received his diploma and walked on into his own bright future, leaving behind a good man and a good father who can be sure of the rightness of this, perhaps his most important legacy of all.

Walking his Pug

Despite the sharp divide between the public and the personal, Jobs description of meeting his wife Laurene shows that the same impulsiveness and focus that drove his work at Apple was at the heart of his personal life:

I was in the parking lot with the key in the car, and I thought to myself, ‘If this is my last night on earth, would I rather spend it at a business meeting or with this woman?’ I ran across the parking lot, asked her if she’d have dinner with me. She said yes, we walked into town and we’ve been together ever since.

Some of the magazine covers here:

Steve Jobs Magazine Covers

Steve Jobs Magazine Covers

Oct 072011

An excellent article “Steve Jobs in Four Easy Steps” in Spectrum Magazine at IEEE (the world’s largest technical professional society) where G. Pascal Zachary looks at his work from a technical/engineering perspective. Short and worth a read, Jobs is seen as a “human-centered technologist” even as he defied current conventions and expectations:

Steve Jobs - Apple Website

Steve Jobs - Apple Website

First, Jobs refused to accept that software and hardware were best designed and engineered separately. For him, the venerable insight summarized by Thomas Hughes, the grand historian of American technology, as “the system must be first” became a lodestar. Jobs understood that Apple was fundamentally a builder of technological systems, not a generator of products. As a young man, he watched IBM lose its central role in computing by handing off the PC’s basic operating system to an outsider (Microsoft). When in the 2000s Microsoft struggled (and largely failed) to persuade cellphone makers to adopt a variant of Windows, Jobs turned the industry upside down by building a cellphone with an Apple OS at its core. In embracing what traditional industrialists called “vertical integration,” he propelled Apple to first place in smartphones.

Second, Jobs denied what is perhaps the most closely held article of faith of the information age: that openness and the wisdom of crowds are essential for successful technological systems. Under his leadership, Apple produced “closed” systems—devices whose basic functions could not be altered—and consumers loved them. “It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want,” Jobs once famously said. Though an ex-hippie, he proved to be a throwback to an earlier age of top-down leadership: A direct line runs from Henry Ford’s Model T to the iPad. To Jobs, Apple’s systems are always open—in the sense that their uses can be adapted to an owner’s needs and desires. But as iTunes demonstrates, Apple’s ability to control the content, the applications, and the purchase opportunities on its mobile devices is far greater than anything carried off by its rivals.

Third, Jobs found a way of selling Apple’s products directly—through company-owned stores or online—which was perhaps his greatest and mostly unlikely business triumph. Makers of computers and consumer electronics had always offloaded the task of reaching customers to a motley crew of retailers, who provided no consistent purchasing experience or brand loyalty while shredding the manufacturer’s profit margins. Again, going against convention, Jobs created the most valuable retail stores in the world (outselling Tiffany’s on a per-square-meter basis). He then sold the inimitable iPhone through those stores and via one other channel (AT&T), in what was a daring business tactic that paid enormous dividends.

Fourth, Jobs found a way to dominate consumer electronics, an arena that the United States seemed to have irretrievably lost to Japan, Korea, and China. The iPod, first released by Apple 10 years ago, marked a stunning shift in global competitive dynamics in consumer electronics. No longer did U.S. firms need to presume they couldn’t compete with Canon, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and other Asian powerhouses in miniaturized digital appliances. To be sure, Jobs relied heavily on Asian production networks—Apple reportedly employs 10 times as many people in China as in the United States—but the style, engineering, and interactivity of Apple’s devices are classically American. . . .


Oct 062011
Grand Central - October 5 2011 - Apple Store Site Under Development

Grand Central - October 5 2011 - Apple Store Site

I lingered for a few minutes last night at the site of the new Apple store that will open in mid-November, the one that Steve Jobs will never see. The construction crews have been busy for weeks now, but of course nothing is heard or seen behind the veil that Apple throws over all its work. The only hint of activity is a few construction workers bring in supplies and a MTA employee standing guard by the entrance.

And yes, the black drapes take on an entirely new meaning. I see them every day but last night was different and not in the way that any of us wanted.

But in the next couple of posts, just a few reflections on his life. There are so many tributes; far be it for me to add one more. But I want to look at his life and work from a couple of different perspectives that I think have been overlooked.

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -2

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -2


Back to the store that will open next month. Here are two architectural renderings for the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) which he probably did approve since this store is to be a showpiece of Apple’s retail business. As always, focus and simplicity are the key elements here as they were in his life’s work.

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -3

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -3