Where do we go from here?
It’s the question that technology enthusiasts, market watchers and hundreds of millions of consumers are left to ponder in the wake of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. His ability to forever alter the landscape of consumer technology, something which he did with regularity in his later years, leaves a considerable gap which numerous individuals and organizations will attempt to fill. Part of what makes the loss of Jobs so devastating is that he was an active driver of his company’s groundbreaking efforts. When Henry Ford died in 1947 at age 83, the Ford Motor Company was decades beyond the Model T and the introduction of the assembly line, innovations in which Ford had tremendous influence. Apple and Jobs were the subject of constant conversation and while this scrutiny will now continue, it will include a portion of speculation not previously present.
In a tribute last week, President Barack Obama stated that Jobs exemplified the qualities that define all great American innovators. He was, “brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.”
In Jobs’ case, the way in which he thought differently from other individuals may, in retrospect, be his greatest singular strength. Jobs realized early in Apple’s history that the best hope for the mass marketing of computer technology involved taking the most complicated products and delivering them with the most simple user experience.
In a 1996 interview with National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, Jobs demonstrated this idea when he told host Terry Gross about Apple’s development of the mouse. Jobs and other Apple staffers had visited Xerox, the company that, at the time, was working on using a Graphical User Interface. “We found that Xerox’s [mouse] had three buttons. We found that people would push the wrong button or were scared they were going to push the wrong button, so they always looked at the mouse instead of at the screen.” Through Jobs’ persistence, and a good amount of pressure applied to other executives, Apple’s Macintosh debuted with a single button. More than two decades later, Jobs hammered away at developers to ensure that Apple’s iPhone mirrored the “one button” approach.
An executive’s legacy is weighed and recorded one decision at a time. While he will be remembered most for changing the way people do many ordinary tasks (listen to music, use the phone, etc.), the business world should keep Jobs’ principle of success through simplicity at the forefront of its mind.
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