Steve Jobs Legacy: Making a Better World

Posted by Dr. James Canton on October 11, 2011 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

Steve Jobs passing has touched millions and rightfully so. As an innovator he wrote the book. In my last posting I acknowledged the lessons I learned working with Steve and Apple. But now his death has stirred new awareness in me about him and his legacy.

Look around our world in our home, in our kids hands, in schools and more now in business–The Apple experience is pervasive in our world, not just the device of choice. Animation from Disney where Pixar lives to iTunes, a paradigm shifting new business model to the iPhone populate our lives across the world. But Steve was always about a bigger idea that was beyond selling stuff. He was always about putting tools into people’s lives to transform their world for the better. This was a fundamental part of Steve’s DNA. He was not just a great salesman, he was a reality-shifter. This is an alchemy quite different.

When we launched the Mac at Apple none of us including Steve Jobs or Woz had a clue how the world would embrace it. We were all nervous and excited. Not quite flying blind but not looking over our shoulders but into a unknown future. There had been recent computer failures by Apple. The media was not rooting for us. IBM and all of business had dismissed Apple. Many thought we were not ready for prime time.

Much has been made about that Apple never did in the early days consumer research which is not true. Steve was not a big fan but some of us with a background in business decided that this could be a learning opportunity. I ran the first focus groups on the Mac with doctors in 1983 bringing ten into Apple HQ to show them the Macs. They were impressed and actually looked at them as they would other medical or surgical tools. Being in charge of business and industries like medicine, I wanted to learn from them about the new Macs. Steve did not oppose things even when he was not fully in agreement.

At Apple, we thought we were doing very cool things with technology to inspire the creativity of the individual, not make a productivity machine or even to make money. We were empowering the world with new personal innovation tools. At least that was the big idea. At Apple, in 1984 we were infected by an electric excitement authored by Steve. He was the catalyst for and the Apple culture reinforced, shaped and nurtured about changing the world.

Steve was baby boomer like myself. Many boomers were influenced by the progressive politics of the 60’s, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the social awakening of the American youth, the civil rights movement and the human potential movement, from Fritz Pearls to Tim Leary. These cultural change forces were about making the world a better place. This was the social context, the culture of making the world a better place, challenging norms, challenging authority and ultimately changing the establishment (becoming the establishment) that Steve and the Boomers were shaped by. Not all of us drank the whole cool aid but Steve did and he, like all of us then was struggling to making a difference before we even knew what that was about.

Apple, in this way, was shaped by the culture of dissent, invention and the rationale challenge of creating an alternative to society’s norms. The Mac was designed to be a social and personal tool of transformation, not just a computer. Even today this is still not quite understood or dismissed as an exaggeration. To Steve and most of us in the early days at Apple, this was our creed.

The intro of theĀ  new Mac was made to media and analysts first before the public saw it in 1984. This was Steve’s idea. We needed a big buzz to promote the computer. So we placed the Mac’s, each one in their hotel rooms. When they came in before the unveiling of the next day there was a computer sitting on each of the desks in their hotel rooms. No manual, no directions, nothing, just the Mac sitting there like some sentient beast waiting to come alive.

The natural instinct was to touch the Mac which the analysts did. And then something strange happened. Something that even today is not well known but points us to the future of computing–the Mac came “alive” and spoke Hello. This was the first time a computer spoke to a human. This was the first intimate, very natural and intelligent communication between a human and a computer. All smart machines of the future will owe a legacy to the first speaking computer, the Mac that greeted the public in 1984.Putting a voice chip into the Mac was pure imagination. That was Steve.

I am sad about Steve’s passing because most of what I learned about technology, culture and business I learned first at Apple. I recall being asked what I was doing at Apple, rather then writing books about future trends and innovation and at 30 years old, with a new PhD, I felt I knew little about technology so was there to learn, explore, discover. I was there to be part of a revolution in culture that transcended computing. It was about then in 1984 and still is today in 2011, making a better world. Steve knew that and his gift was reminding us we are about bigger stuff–the stuff that makes a better world.

A year after the iPhone was introduced there was Steve holding up a billion dollar check he was paying out to iPhone developers. Steve had empowered again a new generation of entrepreneurs, with a new personal computing platform. Steve and Apple created a tsunami of innovation that went beyond business they transformed culture. And Steve’s legacy may continue not by Apple alone but by the millions of inspired individuals that are using and will use cool Apple products to make a better world.

We will never know what Steve could have done if he had more time to live. Would he have created a new generation of Apple TV app entrepreneurs? Would he have created cloud based super-cheap computers that would transform the economics of the world? Or would Apple computers be used to create a new super grid and deliver clean energy to millions?

One thing is for certain and that is that his memory should live on and inspire us all to create a better world, a world that meets with courage the grand challenges of the day. Steve would have wanted to see this new future.

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