It’s kind of funny — not in the funny, ha, ha way, of course but in the “Huh, I had no idea … ” kind of way — but when I heard that Apple co-founder and tech visionary Steve Jobs passed away last night at the age 56, I was surprised that he was just 56.
Steve Jobs has been a fixture of not only our industry but of the public’s imagination for so long, he must be older, I thought. How could anyone wield such influence for so long and yet be so young? My oldest brother is in his 50s and I’m not far behind.
In looking back, it’s easy to see now that the last part of the 20th Century and the first part of the 21st, was dominated by few personalities more important than Steve Jobs. I think it’s because Jobs’ genius wasn’t about technology – that was merely his trade. Job’s genius was translating the “art of the possible” into a vision that everyone could understand and become a part of.
Yes, his leadership at Apple was indispensible but it’s my understanding (never having been in the room at the time, mind you) that Jobs great gift was seeing what others saw and being able to turn that into something new and, yet, somehow familiar and oddly comforting at the same time. He understood that most people don’t care one bit, one little iota, about technology. They care only about what that technology can do for them, not how it does it.
Of all the acronyms that get thrown around perhaps the one that best describes Jobs vision is KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. Not that I’m saying anyone is stupid, neither Jobs nor the people who bought his products. Indeed, Apple has long been known as the best of the best. If you want it to work, you buy Apple. Yes, it cost more but, by all accounts, it’s always worth it.
Ultimately, even when the company commanded just a single digit share of the market and it was widely accepted that Apple would never have any role in the enterprise, it was somehow able to counter-balance Microsoft’s dominance.
Even in its down days in the 1980s and 1990s, Jobs little company just wouldn’t go away. It was always there, just inside of your sightline, threatening to do something new and creative; turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and, in the process, changing everything we thought we knew about buying music, or talking on the phone, or using a computer.
We need visionaries just as much as we need technologists, engineers and scientists. We may even need them more today than ever before. Someone has to direct the show. Someone has to shine a bright light on things so that we can all see what they see and say, “Ah, yes, of course, now it makes sense. It was so obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Even though I never knew the man, I have to say I was definitely saddened when I saw the headline over my wife’s shoulder last night. As someone who has never owned an Apple, I’ve always been comforted to know that the option was there; that there was an alternative if I really got completely fed up with PC.
Yes, Steve Jobs will be missed, not only by the people in the industry he helped found and drive to unimagined heights, but by the average person. Someone familiar is gone. To achieve iconic status is rarely something someone sets out to do. In many ways, it’s like greatness; often thrust upon those who have it only to be carried with humility.
But Jobs did just that.
He become an icon not just for the folks in the technology industry but for everyone. He made us all realize the American Dream is still worth dreaming. That given a little luck, the right time in history, and the vision and drive to make “it” happen, it can happen.
He will be missed, emulated and imitated but never replaced.
Allen Bernard is the managing editor of CIOUpdate.com and eSecurityPlanet.com. He has been covering the intersection of technology and business for over 11 years having written over 1,600 articles, assigned and edited thousands more, and conducted over 4,800 interviews with leading business and IT decision-makers to make all of that happen. He can be reached at [email protected].