4:28 p.m. | Updated Much has been and will be written about Steve Jobs’s outsize footprint in digital culture: the screens we stare at, the music files we listen to, the hardware in our pockets. I’d stipulate to all that, but I found myself thinking about his less obvious influence on business and the journalists who cover it.
Business has always been important, but until Mr. Jobs arrived, it was rarely accused of being cool. As a young reporter I made a lane change from writing about pop culture and politics to business, and I can remember the look of sympathy from my colleagues and the message that went with it: Good luck in the Land of the Suits. Business, while vital to the civic common, was not thought to be an important part of the stories that we tell each other.
It was not always thus. In the 1940s, Henry Luce, using both Time and Fortune, made business seem remarkable, with portraits of the lions of capitalism coursing down the broad avenues of New York in taxis on the way to doing remarkable things that made the hopelessness of the Great Depression seem distant. But as success became routine, it also became institutionalized, with faceless corporations like U.S. Steel and General Motors lording over the smooth running engines of commerce. With the tumult of Vietnam and the battle for civil rights grabbing the headlines, news about business seemed very much beside the point.
Business and business news regained luster when the masters of the universe began to lord over Wall Street in the 1980s, but it became obvious to the press, perhaps too slowly, that many of them were simply common thieves with extra zeroes behind their crimes. This was just after Mr. Jobs and Steve Wozniak came storming out of their garage in the late ’70s. They seemed remarkable in a business environment that seemed to belong to men with gray hair and fancy suits hiding their expansive guts, as well as their considerable earnings.
As America switched from a country that made things to one that bought them, so much of business began to exist in the abstract, with deeds exchanged and stocks sold. Mr. Jobs did not just move money around. He made things that he promised would change the world, and they often did. The fact that Mr. Jobs and Apple made objects that consumers could touch, and often did, made him someone worth writing about and paying attention to no matter what he did. Steve Jobs was not a suit. He said that taking LSD was one of the formative experiences of his life and had very little interest in consumer research.
Beyond that, no one played the press like Mr. Jobs. It had less to do with his black turtleneck than the head for business that floated above it. From the very beginning, he understood that any consumer enterprise had to have a strong element of show business, to create excitement and demand. An Apple launch had less to do with a traditional product rollouts than the magician’s “reveal,” a moment of wonder in which a mystery morphed into an actual product. Yes, sometimes the devices were magical, but all the more so because of how they arrived. In his presentations, his products sometimes literally introduced themselves.
In this context, the press was neither enemy nor ally to Mr. Jobs, but just one more tool in the kit. He understood the media’s appetite for what they did not know, and he tantalized them with scarcity and secrecy. Other chief executives would play footsie with reporters, feeding them a little kibble now and then to keep them interested. When Mr. Jobs called a reporter — he called me a few times — it was to argue, compliment or admonish, probing and searching, but all the while giving away nothing fundamentally interesting about the company. Steve Jobs never showed any leg until he was good and ready.
Others have tried to duplicate the approach, but over the long haul, theatrics don’t matter unless you deliver. Mr. Jobs was an impresario who came through, time and again, so his shows were always well attended.
His well-documented force field extended to other corners of business coverage. Failure was never much of a credential until Mr. Jobs got hold of it. There was the flop of the Lisa computer during his first tour at Apple, the specter of him being forced to walk the plank at his own company, and then the face-planting when he was on his own with NeXT.
Those pratfalls would be enough to sink any business executive for good, but Mr. Jobs never bought into things like reputational damage or fatal mistakes. To him, all those events were just inflection points on his way to changing computing, music, telecommunications and publishing. The future vindicated his past — first in his return to Apple and then as a creator and owner of Pixar.
His ability to rise from the dead made him scary. No one commanded the respect of the press like Mr. Jobs. I can remember a visit he made to The New York Times when the first iPad came out. The Times is a notoriously blasé place, where heads of state have been known to come and go without raising an eyebrow. But when Mr. Jobs came, the effect was electric. For three days, his advance team swept through our place, attending to every detail and making sure his time there would be seamless and glitch-free.
We were all seated when he came in, in part because there were medical reasons for him to avoid grip and grins, but the whole rock star thing was in high effect. And then it was on. No one asks a casual question of Steve Jobs.
That’s partly because Steve Jobs loved to argue. One of his great gifts was his ability to deal with geeks, business wonks and media savants on their own terms and often come up on top. Sometimes he did it based on facts; other times, just plain stubbornness. Just as he made the mouse and the disc drive disappear simply by saying it should be so, he prevailed in long-running debates over software and the media business through steady assertion — using all the leverage that his products and online retail presence conveyed.
Which brings us back to how he changed business journalism — its image and its attractiveness. Because he was a showman, because he made interesting things that consumers cared about, readers began to follow his products as they might a band or their favorite team. Being an Apple user became a marker of cultural identity and conveyed cool. Some of that splashed onto those who covered business.
Now, young reporters with good prospects often start in business coverage, becoming conversant in unit sales, earnings per share, and Ebidta. The best and brightest of them can be found chasing the latest rumor out of Silicon Valley or peering under the hood of the just-hatched start-up. There are a lot of forces in play that make that so, but you’d have to credit Steve Jobs with making business something that did not belong to the suits.
Business reporters hated Apple’s secrecy and found Mr. Jobs’s arrogance wearying, but we all knew that our craft picked up some glitz and esteem because of his involvement. Our readers, his consumers, cared about the guy and everything he did. He made business cool by using it to make cool stuff. It was fun to be along for the ride.
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
Steve Jobs died yesterday. With him died one of the greatest visionaries who changed the lifestyle of the modern world. Indeed, he was the harbinger of a revolution like no other. He touched the life of practically every one of Capitalism’s greatest creation – the middle class, which increasingly is becoming one huge global community of consumers. He changed the way the world listens to music, watches movies, uses the phone or the personal computer, among many others. The Apple co-founder is the architect behind the company’s phenomenal rebirth and phoenix-like rise from what everybody had once presumed was the atrophying skeleton of a very sick but fabulous company, Steve Job’s inspiring speech at the Stanford University Commencement Function 2005 ended with a quote from a magazine of his college days, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. This was, in essence the advice he had for the “freshers” who had joined the prestigious Ivy League University in California, USA in that year. The advice might as well have been extended to not just every scholar in the world but to everybody else who value creativity. Learning is a process and not any finite event. But much more than the mere statement of a well acknowledged truism, it is a clarion call to all to never settle at any destination in life, but to continue to strive to be better. The only way to ensure the energy for this outlook to life remains undiminished, is to always thirst for more knowledge in the belief that what is already known is nothing compared to what can still be learned. There can be nobody more fit to have preached this than the Steve Job, whose creative energy continued to remain at its peak even as entered the late 50s of life, having designed extremely successful “cool” products that did not end with just personal computers and laptops, but also went ahead to redefine the way the world listened to music, watched movies, kept in touch, or visited the virtual world of the internet. Quite without doubt one of the richest man in the world today, there probably would not be many anywhere whose lifestyles have not been influenced in some way or the other by the numerous creations of somebody who may go down in history as one of the most creative men ever. Arguably in this sense he would have touched more lives than even his old time arch rival and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, although on the philanthropic mission and not just creativity, the latter would be undoubtedly far beyond him, too far perhaps for him to ever catch up.
This is not an attempt to assess and compare the achievements of the two. There is in fact little left to be written about them and their achievements anymore. The point is merely to underscore the message so well articulated by Job that creativity is about remaining creative forever, and this precisely through a willingness to remain hungry and have the humility to acknowledge there can never be anything as enough when it comes to learning. This spirit of adventure, defined by a burning desire to discover, invent, venture and take risk has been the hallmark of all successful and creative societies. Consequently, all societies which have ceased to be adventurous would with a measure of certainty, stagnate and ultimately fade into insignificance. The important and more urgent question is, where would our own society fare against such a barometer of creative energy? Are we still hungry for achievement? Can we still claim to be creative? It probably is a mixed bag. On the one hand there is a constant escalation of what is probably the biggest agent for the destruction of creativity – official corruption. Merit, enterprise, endurance and all such priceless qualities that add to the creative energy of a society are being systematically decimated. By choice and increasingly by compulsion, more and more are being drawn into the vortex of this depthless Black Hole of corruption. Sadly, the accepted social goal of respectability today has also come to be simply “wealth” without any qualification as to how it had been acquired. The easiest way to acquire wealth in the present social circumstance being corruption, the issue has undergone a terrible mutation so that it has literally come to mean the most corrupt and thereby the most filthily rich, are also the most respected citizens of today. If this is one side of the story, there is another where the picture is not so depressing. In fields of activities autonomous of the government job market, the hunger for achievement is still undiminished. The evidence in the manner the state’s theatre, cinema, other performing arts, doctors, scientists, sportspersons etc, consistently earn the respect of the rest of the country and the world?
- Steve Jobs’ advice, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” (itsonelife.com)
- Video: Steve Jobs At Stanford: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ (paidcontent.org)
- “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” (coopcatalyst.wordpress.com)
Steve Jobs, who built the world’s most-valuable technology company by creating devices that changed how people use electronics and revolutionized the computer, music and mobile-phone industries, died. He was 56.
Mr. Jobs, who resigned as Apple Inc. chief executive officer on Aug. 24, 2011, passed away today, the Cupertino, California-based company said. He was diagnosed in 2003 with a neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer, and had a liver transplant in 2009. Apple disclosed Mr. Jobs’s passing in a statement.Apple.com
Mr. Jobs embodied the Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He was a long-haired counterculture technophile who dropped out of college and started a computer company in his parents’ garage on April Fools’ Day, 1976. He had no formal technical training and no real business experience.
What he had instead was an appreciation of technology’s elegance and a notion that computers could be more than a hobbyist’s toy or a corporation’s workhorse. These machines could be indispensable tools. A computer could be, he often said, “a bicycle for our minds.” He was right — owing largely to a revolution he started.
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On his watch, Apple came to dominate the digital age, first through the creation of the Macintosh computer and later through the iPod digital music player, the iPhone wireless handset and more recently, the iPad tablet.
With each product, Mr. Jobs confronted new adversaries — from International Business Machines Corp. in computers to Microsoft Corp. in operating systems, to Sony Corp. in music players and Google Inc. in mobile software.
Mr. Jobs said in 2004 that he had been diagnosed and treated for a neuroendocrine tumor in his pancreas. After surgery to remove an islet cell tumor, he took a month off to recuperate and declared himself healthy and cancer free.
For a few years, he looked that way. He was thinner, which was no surprise after what he’d been through. One person who knew him well said that the cancer scare didn’t slow him down, convince him to spend more time with family or reconnect with friends. If anything, Mr. Jobs seemed to get even more engaged with work, said this person, who wished to remain anonymous because the matter was private.
During his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Mr. Jobs described how the inevitability of death was a motivating force in his life.
“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked; there is no reason not to follow your heart,” he said.
Mr. Jobs’s appearance changed noticeably by early 2008. He started looking gaunt. Tech blogs bubbled with discussion about what was going on. Typical headlines: “The Incredible Shrinking Apple CEO,” and “Why “Why Does Steve Jobs Look So Thin?”
When he took the stage at Apple events, Mr. Jobs joked about his health. In August of that year, Bloomberg News erroneously published an obituary; at a product launch a month later he recited the Mark Twain line that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. At another event that year, he projected a slide of his blood pressure.
In January 2009, Mr. Jobs said that his weight loss was caused by a “hormone imbalance”; nine days later, he began a five-month medical leave, handing control of the company to his chief operating officer, Tim Cook. Later that year, he underwent a liver transplant at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis.
Mr. Jobs announced his resignation from Apple Aug. 24. “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Mr. Jobs said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”
In the weeks preceding his resignation, Mr. Jobs was largely housebound, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“Under Steve’s leadership Apple has not only revolutionized the computer industry but also transformed how the world communicates, plays, shops and works,” Frank Quattrone, CEO of Qatalyst Partners LLP, a Silicon Valley investment bank, said at the time. “In the entrepreneur hall of fame, he is the charter member. He is, and will remain, an inspiration to the world.”