Sunday, October 9, 2011 5 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

The computer is the... bicycle for our minds... -- Steve Jobs, 1955-2011



Steve Jobs was born in 1955, into an era of rotary phones and room-size computers. He died on Oct. 5, 2011, having put a computer inside a phone and that phone into 120 million pockets.
— Bloomberg Businessweek

Unlike many others out there, I am not a huge fan of Steve Jobs. His demanding personality doesn't sit well with me and if I was working for him, I may not survive for long. I was sort of a "geeky" guy who grew up with computers in the 90's but I was a PC user and hence not too familiar with Apple products.

Having said all that, I do respect Steve Jobs as one of the most influential people of all time. He was an entrepreneur and a designer and a salesperson and a leader and an executive. He is, without a doubt, one of the top executives in American history. His resurrection of Apple may be one of the biggest business turn-arounds in modern history.

One of the most remarkable lessons about the life of Steve Jobs is how he battled failures and bounced back. This is a good lesson for anyone that faces adversity, whether in their careers, school life, with relationships or their family. I judge a man or woman by what they do when they are down and out, and Steve Jobs' actions during his struggles in the 90's is a testament to his character.

If you don't have time to read my writing and want to read one good blog entry that encapsulates what Steve Jobs was all about, read "On Steve Jobs" by Matthew Panzarino at TheNextWeb. He does a better job than I ever could. Otherwise, read on...


The Personal Computer Revolution

Apple I (1976) - One of the first personal computers

Most individuals and the media, who may have grown up in the last two decades and are biased towards the recent, seem to suggest that Jobs' biggest accomplishment was in the last decade—the iPod and iPhone era—but I think Steve Jobs' greatest influence was in the 80's. Along with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs was one of the pioneers who launched the personal computer industry. That is really his biggest accomplishment!

The GUI interface of the original Macintosh along with the introduction of the mouse, which was influenced by the work from Xerox PARC (if interested, you may want to read this entertaining Gladwell article in The New Yorker), revolutionized computing. The world would be very different if the windows & mouse GUI system never took off—we would still be typing commands into terminals.

Apple Macintosh (1984) - First mass-market PC with a GUI and mouse

Modern Influence

More recently, Apple, under the influence of Steve Jobs, revolutionized the distribution of content, such as music and apps. It's unfortunate that we won't get to see how Steve Jobs would have handled the future as this evolves into cloud-oriented services. Nevertheless, he shook up the media industry and forced them into Internet Age.

Similar to how Jobs drove the windows & mouse I/O (input/output) revolution in the 80's, he accomplished another remarkable feat by taking I/O to the next stage with touch interfaces. Although somewhat subtle, I believe this may be his biggest accomplishment in the last two decades. Similar to the original mouse, others had been playing around with various conceptions but Apple took the capacitive touch interface to a whole new level. Instead of using touch as an optional I/O, Apple essentially made it the only interface in their products such as the iPhone. It may seem normal now but it's remarkable to think that we may have all devices—phones and tablets now, but maybe even PCs and notebooks—without any keyboard or mouse. Decades from now, the computer and consumer electronics industry will remember the person and the company who popularized the touch interface.

Once upon a time, industrial and office technology influenced consumer devices. Nowadays, it is almost at the point that the biggest innovations are occurring in the consumer space. I am starting to see consumer technology impact business products. For instance, capactive touch is a consumer-driven technology but it is gaining popularity in business and industrial applications. Similarly, touch phones were, and still are, mostly consumer-oriented but they are far more productive and are being demanded by office workers.

Intersection of Technology & Liberal Arts

Contrary to some mistaken views, Steve Jobs was not a "techie." He couldn't program a computer and didn't really engineer any systems. He also wasn't a scientist (but he read widely and has deep knowledge about many subjects). However, he was very knowledgeable, with diverse interest, and understood the potential for technology to change human life. In essence, he was a visionary without being an expert in technology.

Perhaps what Steve Jobs accomplished better than anyone else in the tech industry is to understand the importance of the intersection of technology and liberal arts. Writing for The New Yorker's News Desk blog, Jonah Lehrer points out how Steve Jobs focused on this (bolds by me):

When introducing the iPad 2 in March, Jobs summarized his strategy this way: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Such platitudes are common in Silicon Valley, where executives routinely introduce shiny gadgets with lofty language. But what set all of Jobs’s companies apart, from Pixar to NeXT to Apple, was, indeed, an insistence that computer scientists must work together with artists and designers—that the best ideas emerge from the intersection of technology and the humanities. “One of the greatest achievements at Pixar was that we brought these two cultures together and got them working side by side,” Jobs said in 2003.
A lot of techies and business-types often bash liberal arts but it plays a big role in the success of technology. You can have the best invention but if you can't sell it or the customer can't use it easily, it may be for naught. Lehrer continues his blog entry and talks about how Jobs tried to ensure the interaction between artists and computer scientists at Pixar:

The original architectural plan called for three buildings, with separate offices for the computer scientists, the animators, and the Pixar executives. Jobs immediately scrapped it. (“We used to joke that the building was Steve’s movie,” Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, told me last year.) Instead of three buildings, there was going to be a single vast space, with an airy atrium at its center. “The philosophy behind this design is that it’s good to put the most important function at the heart of the building,” Catmull said. “Well, what’s our most important function? It’s the interaction of our employees. That’s why Steve put a big empty space there. He wanted to create an open area for people to always be talking to each other.”

Jobs realized, however, that it wasn’t enough to simply create a space: he needed to make people go there. As he saw it, the main challenge for Pixar was getting its different cultures to work together, forcing the computer geeks and cartoonists to collaborate. (John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar, describes the equation this way: “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.”) In typical fashion, Jobs saw this as a design problem. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the atrium. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria and the coffee bar and the gift shop. But that still wasn’t enough; Jobs insisted that the architects locate the only set of bathrooms in the atrium. (He was later forced to compromise on this detail.) In a 2008 conversation, Brad Bird, the director of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” said, “The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space…. But Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.”
Although Jobs played a pivotal role financing and overseeing Pixar, credit for the success really lies with Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. Nevertheless, it goes to show how Jobs doesn't just focus on the product but also human resource issues. In particular, he is one of the few who is successful in marrying technical workers and artistic ones. He is also very persistent in hiring the best workers for those roles.

Computer is a Bicycle for Our Minds

Steve Jobs, like Bill Gates, was one of the few to identify, back in the late 70's, that computers had immense potential. Steve Jobs even had a saying about how computers are a remarkable tool that will advance the potential of humans:
I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. Humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list....That didn't look so good, but then someone at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle and a man on a bicycle blew the condor away. That's what a computer is to me: the computer is the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.
(source: "Memory and Imagination," Library of Congress. Quoted from treehugger.com)

By the way, even though I said Jobs isn't a techie or a scientist, he is very knowledgeable about science and technology as you can observe with his comment citing Scientific American above. He was obviously reading that magazine when he was younger and not many would read that if they didn't have an interest in science or technology.

Jobs on Life

My impression is that Steve Jobs rarely gave interviews that weren't a sales pitch for his products. However, he did give a highly-motivating commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. I recommend that you check it out below or read it here.
 Here is the word cloud from his speech:

Apple's 1984 Super Bowl Commercial

Due to copyright issues, the following television commercial was only aired once, but it achieved cult status and won a few awards.
Steve Jobs was a marketing genius and knew how to sell consumer technology products. I remember Jobs saying in an article how it took him a while to figure out that he was good at consumer technology products. Once he figured that out, there were very few who came anywhere near his talent in selling such products.

Apple's Stock Performance

Finally, since this is supposed to be an investing blog, I thought I would briefly touch on the performance of Apple stock since its IPO back in 1984. The resurrection from near death in the late 90's is one of the biggest turn-arounds in corporate history. Unfortunately, I have never owned Apple stock :(


Steve Jobs lived and breathed Apple and it shows. This is a log chart so equal vertical distances indicate same returns. The biggest wealth creation occurred from the IPO price to the late 80's, and from the mid-2000's to the present. The dark age for Apple occurred in the early to late-90's period — precisely when Jobs wasn't part of Apple.

I don't think anyone expects that Steve Jobs can be replaced. The question for investors is whether Jobs has successfully institutionalized his core principles at Apple (this is an issue plaguing Berkshire Hathaway as well). A lot of focus in the last few years has been on trying to teach the lessons from the senior Apple executives, engineers and designers to the younger workers and it remains to be seen how successful that is.

Additional Articles

There are so many articles being written and so much information over-load that it's hard to read all of them. Here are stories on Steve Jobs that I found interesting (some stories may have been linked before on this blog).

CultofMac:

John Sculley was the CEO who was hired by Steve Jobs, but ultimately, with the Board support, ended up firing Steve Jobs. Maybe Jobs deserved to lose his job because he certainly improved his shortcomings during his difficult 90's period but it's all history now. The following lengthy interview is very frank and probably provides more insight than what you would see from other sources. However, do note that it is from Sculley's point of view.

(Recommended) "John Sculley on Steve Jobs, The Full Transcript," Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac. Oct 14 2010.

Bloomberg:

(Obituary) "Steve Jobs, Who Built World’s Most Valuable Technology Company, Dies at 56," Jim Aley, Bloomberg. October 6, 2011.

The New Yorker:

Slideshow linking to stories on Steve Jobs

(Recommended) "Creation Myth — Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation," Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker. May 16 2011.

(Recommended) "The Perceptionist — How Steve Jobs took back Apple ," John Heilemann, The New Yorker. September 8, 1997.

Bloomberg Businessweek:

This week's Bloomberg Businessweek magazine is dedicated to Steve Jobs and has numerous articles on him.

Eric Schmidt on Steve Jobs

(Recommended) Steve Jobs: The Beginning, 1955-1985, Jim Aley, Bloomberg Businessweek. Oct 6 2011.

(Recommended) Steve Jobs: The Wilderness, 1985-1997, Peter Burrows, Bloomberg Businessweek. Oct 6 2011.

Steve Jobs: The Return, 1997-2011, Brad Stone, Bloomberg Businessweek. Oct 6 2011.

(slideshow) Steve Jobs: A Look back

(Recommended) (slideshow) Apple computers and consumer devices

The Star:

(slideshow) Steve Jobs through the Years

MarketWatch:

Cody Word - Ten Best Steve Jobs Presentations of All Time, Cody Willard, MarketWatch. Oct 6, 2011.

Wired:

The boardroom drama that pushed out Steve Jobs:

"Guest Post: Steve Jobs, In And Out of Exile At Apple," Frank Rose, Wired. Oct 7 2011.


Last Word

(source: Robert Padbury, dribble.com)

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5 Response to The computer is the... bicycle for our minds... -- Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

October 9, 2011 at 5:41 AM

RIP Steve Jobs, you are great man.

Edi
October 9, 2011 at 5:42 AM

the best ceo in the world

http://service-komputer-laptop.blogspot.com

October 9, 2011 at 8:12 PM

This is a good link on the things that Steve Jobs didn't do that people think he did and the things he did do that people can emulate. http://www.asymco.com/2011/10/06/steve-jobs-didnt/

Sivaram Velauthapillai
October 9, 2011 at 9:56 PM

Thanks for posting that Asymco article Roshama. I am a big fan of Horace Dediu but I think he is a bit too simplistic in this post. I think he is trying to be stylish and sort of produces some points that I disagree with.

For example, I don't agree with the following:

ASYMCO: "Steve Jobs did not create products. He created an organization that predictably and reliably created emotionally resonant products. "

I disagree with that. Yes, Jobs was instrumental in building an organization with superb talent but, ultimately, he created products. If anything, all the Apple products, although built and designed by others, had the fingerprints of Steve Jobs. The perfection demanded by Jobs is what made many of those products. In lesser hands, with the same engineering, designers and marketing specialists building those products, it just wouldn't have been the same.

Similarly, I disagree with the following:

ASYMCO: "Steve Jobs was not a futurist. He just built the future one piece at a time."

I don't know about that. Since Jobs, unlike Bill Gates, didn't speak much about his long-term visions (except the visions related to products being launched), it's not clear if he was a visionary.

Yet, many interviews (and even that Malcolm Gladwell article about the GUI & mouse) makes me think that he had a futuristic vision. He was blown away by key technologies, such as the mouse, windows-based GUI, and computer-animated films, etc, long before anyone else was. This makes me think that he developed a vision of the future where such technologies play key roles.

Overall, I do think Steve Jobs was a visionary. But he was very secretive and never revealed his thoughts until a product is launched so it's never clear what his future vision was.

October 10, 2011 at 12:39 PM

The post is too simplistic but I liked how Dediu tried to "humanize" Jobs's accomplishments. You are right, Jobs was a visionary in the sense that he could see potential in products where others did not. From the mouse to the mp3 player, the list goes on and on. I don't know how much his long term visions of the future played into his innovations but he did know a good idea when he saw one.

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