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RIP Steve Jobs – Remembering A Crazy One

On October 5, 2011, we lost Steve Jobs. He was a misfit who built one of the most endurable brands in history — APPLE, taking us through revolutions in computers, music, and entertainment. He master-minded one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history: Think Different: The Crazy Ones. In that 1997 Orwellian commercial, he  reminded us of 17 iconic figures who didn’t like rules very much either —  but they sure did like putting square pegs in round holes (Einstein, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Picasso, John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Martin Luther King, Jr, etc).

The spirit of Steve Jobs has always been a conundrum for fans and scholars alike. Books and films about the man reveal a complex soul who vacillated between genius and madness. Walter Isaacson’s biography on Jobs, describes him as a “deeply emotional, sometimes mean, anti-social human being … who lived in his own altered reality.” In short, a creative mind with a passion for what’s possible, but little tolerance for mediocrity.

When he passed away, I reflected on an essay I wrote in my book The 4 Essentials. I had fun comparing Bill Gates to Steve Jobs and Mozart to Tiger Woods in order to dispel the myths of “born genius” or “born entrepreneur.” In doing so, I was challenging the heart of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory which suggested 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice are “the secret to success”. It was a theory Gladwell proposed in his bestselling book Outliers (PS: I loved the book but a elements in some of his stories seemed very flawed). In fact, reading Outliers triggered a memory about Steve Jobs that to this day makes me certain Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory was fundamentally flawed (clever as it was).

Most of us know the stories of Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Volumes have been written about both juggernauts so I can offer little to their biographies. But there’s a unique lesson I picked up watching a 2010 Apple commercial comparing PC to Mac.

In a cheeky TV commercial, Apple pokes fun at the ongoing glitches of Microsoft’s operating system. Apple had similar bugs throughout its storied past, but since Microsoft’s PC is known to crash more than an Apple computer, the TV audience gets the joke. The commercial is clever, but I came away with a totally different take than the one Apple intended. It starts with a hip-looking kid i jeans (Jobs), standing next to a geeky, older guy in a suit and glasses (Gates). The next 60 seconds goes something like this …

INSERT YOU TUBE COMMERCIAL HERE

Kid Mac: “Hello, I’m a Mac.”

PC Gates: “And I’m a PC. Hey Mac, did you hear the good news? Windows 7 is out and it’s not gonna have any of the problems that my last operating system had. Trust me.”

Kid Mac: (suspiciously): “I feel like I’ve heard this before, PC.” For the remainder of the commercial, we see PC Gates in decade-old leisure suits, insisting each new version of Microsoft’s operating software won’t have the previous problems.

PC Gates: “Windows Vista won’t have any problems Windows XP had, or any problems Windows ’98 had, or any problems Windows ’95 had … or any problems Windows 2 had. This time it’s gonna be different. Trust me (winking).”

What I gleaned from this time-capsule wasn’t that Mac was better than PC, Apple better than Microsoft, or Jobs better than Gates. My epiphany was that neither guy ever stopped innovating. By the time you read this, the latest versions of iPads, iPhones, and Microsoft PCS will be in stores (trust me).

THE TRUE LEGACY of  MISFIT & CRAZY ONE

Steve Jobs left behind mantras that almost every artist, misfit, outlier, or innovator knows well. In fact, he repeated it in a speech he gave at Stanford in 2005.

“Think different …
Don’t be trapped by dogma and other people’s thinking …
Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition …
They somehow already know what you truly want to become… “

In my view, the Steve Jobs legacy is not a question about genius. He was one. He was also a complicated and very flawed human being — there was a dark side. But he never stopped asking, “What if ?” And I suspect crazy ones like me take away the best lesson of all … “What’s Next?”

RIP Steve Jobs