Which Steve Jobs are you writing about?
My friend Brian Johnson, the only human (as opposed to corporation) who regularly sends me physical mail, sent me the “A” sections of the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle the day after Steve Jobs did something simultaneously unthinkable and inevitable. If you’ve been away and off the grid: Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, the company he founded, was fired from, and returned to at its near-death nadir to make it one of the most successful and influential companies of the past half-century. Both sections gave Jobs all their above-the-fold space, and the saturation coverage continues everywhere (including on the HBR Blog Network, where I hang my hat).
It seems like every media outlet on the planet is considering Jobs and his legacy. There is overload already, but that’s because there are almost as many ways to look at Steve Jobs as there are apps for his devices. There’s the entrepreneur, the visionary, the Bob Dylan fan, the competitor, the Microsoft taunter, the Disney tamer, the control freak, the presenter, the user advocate, the cranky communicator, the media tycoon, the media manipulator, the difficult negotiator, the design obsessive, the executive, the aphorist, the … well, you get the idea. We’ll read all these stories because there are so many different ways of considering this complex, damn-near-iconic character.
I don’t get to the west coast much these days and Jobs hasn’t appeared on the east coast in many years, so the last time I saw him in person was at a joint appearance with Bill Gates at the D Conference in Carlsbad in May 2007. The Microsoft-taunting Steve was on display during that exclusive meeting of technology and media bigwigs — the night before the joint appearance he likened iTunes software on the Windows platform to “a drink of ice water in Hell.” (Which makes Gates the Devil?) During the session with Gates, Jobs spoke of what happened at Apple while he was exiled at NeXT. When he said in-between CEO Gil Amelio thought Apple was a ship with a hole in the bottom and sought to fix it by turning the ship in a different direction, the unhappiness of decades ago seemed raw and very present. Unlike his many perfected product presentations, Jobs came across like a real, unmediated, complicated human being. As we consider the lessons we can derive from his work, let’s not lose that human being.