When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1996, a company he co-founded and from which he was dismissed 11 years earlier, he inherited an operation in steep decline. At that moment, Jobs became the modern-day equivalent of David going to pick a fight with Goliath. Goliath, of course, was the unquestionably dominant presence of Microsoft embodied in none other than Bill Gates. Without a doubt, Microsoft was the universal standard of the computing world. Microsoft didn’t make computer hardware, but Bill Gates and Microsoft made Windows, and Windows became the way most of the world interacted with computers. Thus, Bill Gates and Microsoft formed the seemingly impervious imperial power of the computing world.
What chance did Steve Jobs and Apple have against a Goliath like that? Well, everyone but hardcore Apple users would have said, “Absolutely none!” while they installed Windows 97 on their PC’s. But little did they know, Steve Jobs had a hard, smooth stone in his slingshot. Right after he wound up and skillfully fired off that smooth stone directly at Microsoft, we began to see the giant lose its monopoly. Goliath had met his match.
The smooth stone of Steve Jobs was this: captivating simplicity. Steve Jobs was an everyman who believed that people really wanted their electronic tools to be cool, sleek, elegant, simple, and yet powerful pieces of technology. And while he began making drastic improvements to Macs, he made a fascinating, risky move to catch the public’s attention. It was the iPod. For most everyone, including myself, this was the first Apple product we ever owned, the first of many more. I remember being amazed at how cool and sophisticated the iPod was. I could have all my music in one polished little flat box that only had one button and a touch-wheel. There weren’t a half-dozen buttons to figure out and push. No complicated menus or screens. A small but beautifully rich display. And I could watch TV shows I missed on it, too! Now how cool is that??
It probably goes without saying that Steve Jobs stunned Goliath, and Goliath has continually tried to strike back, often with little success. (Anybody remember the Zune?? You may be able to find one on eBay… maybe.)
We all know the rest of the story. And I have to admit, I’m not nearly the Apple enthusiast I may appear to be. (Yes, everything you’re reading here was produced on a PC.) But I have been an admirer of Steve Jobs for one major reason. Steve Jobs was a man who knew his strengths and then invested them into a career and into several companies which became wildly successful. Don’t forget Pixar was a Jobs company, too. One could even argue that media giant Disney owes most of its success over the last 20 years to Pixar and to Steve Jobs.
Since his death yesterday, many people have been trying to capture Steve Jobs’ legacy. I believe Steve Jobs’ legacy was his core strength of being an everyman. In other words, he was a regular enough guy to know the kind of technology that people wanted and weren’t getting anywhere else. He harnessed his own and others’ creativity, created products that were nothing short of cutting edge excellence, and then became their passionate champion. Jobs and the people he chose to work with created products they truly loved. Then Jobs became the living billboard of those products with his passion and persona, serving as Apple’s best advertising.
Apple products: simple and captivating. Steve Jobs: jeans and a t-shirt with tons of pizzazz. Together, they made market-shifting genius that shaped an entirely different contour to the computing, entertainment, and communications world. (Jobs also affected the church world, too. “Simple Church”, based on Jobs’ concepts, has influenced many congregations to keep things both deeply authentic and structurally less complicated and cumbersome.)
Steve Jobs was an everyman in another way, too. Like everyone else, Jobs was endowed with unique strengths and gifts. Jobs, however, took the rarely taken step of channeling his energy into those strengths, and we all now live with the results. It’s easy to take for granted that Steve Jobs possessed no formal education in engineering, programming, or computer technology. The Geek Squad wouldn’t have hired him, and you probably wouldn’t have want Jobs to build and program much of anything. But he didn’t need to, and he didn’t waste his time trying to learn how. Instead, Jobs worked with the engineers and programmers to create the products he envisioned. He hired lots more non-engineers and non-programmers and turned them loose in the design phase of Apple products, too. Thus, Jobs didn’t make the mistake Microsoft has made of hiring computer nerds to manufacture products that only semi-computer nerds can fully appreciate and understand while everyone else fumbles through Microsoft error pop-up windows.
In the wake of Steve Jobs passing, his absence will be felt for a long time. But then again, we all can spot and indeed posses Steve Jobs-like genius whenever we singularly live into the strengths and gifts God has given us. People like that are always amazing. We love being around them. Their abilities and passion are a marvel to watch, no matter what they’re doing. There’s pure genius in the God-given strengths of teachers, managers, chefs, entrepreneurs, sales clerks, table servers, analysts, preachers, artists, athletes, or stay-at-home parents. Our strengths are invaluable gifts to God, to others around us, and to ourselves. Fully realized, those strengths are the hallmark of human genius, distinct and powerful because we have been made by God in his image. And there’s no greater genius than God!
Steve Jobs was blessed to know and courageous enough to live through his strengths. To honor Jobs and his legacy, I hope you and I can keep it simple and do the same.