Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Jobs as Revolutionary

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on Steve Jobs as a great model for our middle schoolers to use to learn about living life with vision and passion.   But lately, I have been thinking about Steve Jobs as a model for revolutionary change, prompted by two very different events:  reading a blog post by my friend Maria Droujkova of Natural Math, and spending an hour in the Apple Store yesterday.

The post that started me down this road Sunday night was entitled How I imagine change.  You should read the entire thing here, because my interpretation doesn't do it justice, but Maria sees radical change as taking two steps:
Step 1:  Disengage from the old way/system
Step 2:  Build the new way/system

Then yesterday, I ended up in Jobs' living legacy, the Apple Store.  My tale of woe:  last week, when my son was working on some school work on my big Mac computer, the screen got wonky and the program froze.  I advised him to reboot and try again, but the computer wouldn't come up again.  So I scheduled an appointment with the Apple Store self-proclaimed "Genius Bar"--the technical experts who help you resolve issues with your Apple technology (computers, iPhones, iPads, etc.).  Because it is so big and bulky, so it is hard for me to handle, plus the fact that my son and I had classes all day, my husband took it in and returned with the sad news that the hard drive was gone and had to be replaced.  But in only a few hours, the work was done, so I had the computer back that night.  Luckily, I did have a back-up drive, and spent the weekend trying to transfer my backup to the new hard drive using Apple's built-in no-brainer backup software, Time Machine.

Unfortunately, it wasn't working.  So it was back to the Apple Store for another appointment at the Genius Bar.  The guy working on my computer turned out to be Gabriel, which I took to be a good sign--what could be better than having not only a Genius, but an Arch Angel working on your computer?  And work on it he did, while I sat there watching him and eves dropping about the other poor souls coming to the Genius Bar for a fix to their technical problems.  The bottom line ended up being that my backup hard drive had problems as well.  So while Gabriel couldn't do a full restore either, what he could do--that I couldn't--was to transfer my document files off the backup to the new computer hard drive.  I would have to reinstall the software at home.....which is a pain, but not nearly as painful as losing all the lesson plans, documents, photographs, music, movies, and other things that I had created and stored on my previous hard drive.

So once again, after having spent an hour trouble shooting and deciding this was the best solution, we left the computer in Gabriel's capable hands, went home, and returned that evening to find a computer with the operating software reinstalled, all my document files transferred, and all of the Apple iLife and iWorks software loaded on (which, frankly, are the packages I use 90% of the time).  And the fee for the probably two hours that Gabriel spent working on my computer?  Nothing.  I got all that service for free, even though the issue was really an external disc drive that failed that was not Apple hardware.  I have a problem with my Mac, I take it to the Genius Bar, and it gets fixed, usually that day, for no charge (other than fees for equipment, like buying the replacement hard drive).

So if you look at that transaction from the typical business viewpoint, it makes no sense.  Here this highly skilled technician spends two hours of time dealing with a problem that wasn't even Apple hardware for no money.  Who can make a business model like that work?

Only a revolutionary....the kind of multi-millionaire corporate CEO who would say, "Why join the Navy ...if you can be a pirate?" (and that was even before Johnny Depp had made pirates cool again).

Because as I understand the man, Steve Jobs (and the company he founded) was never about the money, and was never even about the product.  Steve Jobs and Apple Computer were about empowering people to create things they never imagined they could do by using technology (Pixar is also all about that, but the focus was on giving great artists great tools to create great movies).  Steve Jobs and Apple Computer were about transformation, not market share.  Steve Jobs and Apple Computer were about revolution.

And look how Jobs followed Maria's two steps.  When Apple came on the market, the big competition was which operating system--Microsoft's DOS or Intel's CP/M--was going to be chosen by IBM for their personal computers and, by extension, dominate the market.  But Jobs and Apple didn't try to get into that game.  Instead, they just did their own thing, building a computer that seemed to eschew any pretense of corporate acceptability--what business executive at the time was going to put in an order for a computer that was called an Apple?  As Jean Louis Gassee, who replaced Jobs as head of the Macintosh development team when Jobs left the company, said about the famous original Apple logo (an Apple with a bite missing and filled with stripes of different colors):
One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn't dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.

Lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy....you almost couldn't pick better words to describe a revolutionary. Or here are some quotes from Jobs in the early years, in which he makes clear that he wasn't going to play the game by IBM or Microsoft or typical business rules--he was making up his own rules as he went along. Plus, his game was so much bigger than just money:
We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make "me too" products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream. (1984) 
Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me ... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me. (1993) 
I was worth about over a million dollars when I was twenty-three and over ten million dollars when I was twenty-four, and over a hundred million dollars when I was twenty-five and it wasn't that important because I never did it for the money. (1996) 
What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. (1991)
So after turning his back on what the rest of the computer industry was doing, Jobs had to come through with Step 2:  he had to deliver the goods.    There was a long-time saying at Apple Computer that was attributed to Jobs (although I haven't been able to find an official citation), which was "Real artists ship." And there is no doubt that Apple Computer has shipped some of the finest consumer technology products of the 20th and 21st Century.

But the revolutionary genius of Jobs and/or Apple was realizing that simply building amazing products also wasn't enough.  To transform people's experience with, and willingness to use computer-based products, particularly among the baby boomer generation of which Jobs was a part, you needed to build support structures to help people adapt to an entirely new way of doing things.    For example, this was Jobs' explanation about why the iPod basically wiped out all competition from other MP3 music players:
We had the hardware expertise, the industrial design expertise and the software expertise, including iTunes. One of the biggest insights we have was that we decided not to try to manage your music library on the iPod, but to manage it in iTunes. Other companies tried to do everything on the device itself and made it so complicated that it was useless. (2006)
In short, the iPod took over the market not just because it was a beautiful and functional machine, but because Apple created the entire iTunes music delivery system that simplified the process to the point that even grandparents could find and download the music they wanted.

And that is the beauty of the Apple Stores, with their Genius Bar to fix your technical problems, their free classes to educate you about the products' capabilities, and their One to One service, where for $100 a year, someone will sit down with you once a week and work with you individually on whatever project you need help with.   The stores and their services are Apple's promise to their clients that when you buy their products, they won't abandon you.  You take the leap of faith to go with the non-dominant computer, and they will be your partners in making it work for you.  Your hardware isn't working; we'll fix it.  You don't know how to use the software; we'll teach you.  You can't figure out how to get the music from Garageband to match up with the right pictures in iMovie; we'll work it out with you.

In short, Apple has built not only the computers and other devices they sell, but the infrastructure necessary to help the non-computer generation get control over the computer's more creative capabilities than simply using it as a fancy typewriter.  And that is how you create a technological revolution.

So, once again, Jobs has a lot to teach us about how to make fundamental changes in society.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Apple will continue to keep its revolutionary outlook going now that its pirate captain has sailed on to other waters.

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