Steve Jobs and imagination

Steve Jobs - Placard
Image by The Seg via Flickr

Open Culture is featuring a video of Steve Jobs introducing the first Macintosh – the 128K Mac that I purchased when I went to grad school in the Fall of 1984.  Only those who know the pre-Mac world can understand the standing ovation he received.  It was the first time most people had seen a GUI, the first mouse, the first WYSIWYG document with fonts (and yes, that silly rabbit that folks put into all their documents).

A few years later, working as an SPSS consultant for the campus (when SPSS was still a mainframe-only program!), I was given a DOS machine and expected to provide help to our department.  My appreciation for Mac OS skyrocketed when I had to learn DOS – how could it take hundreds of commands just to start the computer?

Within a year, Steve Jobs was sent into the desert, tossed out of Apple even as the new computers succeeded. He created NeXT computers – too expensive for their time but an indication of where he wanted to go – and dabbled in computer graphics with a new company called Pizar.  One source reports that Jobs was the subject of articles about his early promise and his failure to live up to it. We forget it now, but Steve Jobs spent a long time in that desert. He bought Pixar in 1986. It was nine years before it released its first full-length film – the wildly successful Toy Story – and began to repay the investment.

Within a year of Toy Story’s success – but more than a decade after being ousted from the company – Apple (sagging and moribund) bought NeXT and brought Steve back as acting then actual CEO.  His imagination, at that bottom point, created focus by cutting everything and everyone who was not immediately needed. His genius came through in his ability to conceive of and then deliver products that first amazed people with their novelty and then won them over because they worked really well.

YouTube houses videos for the first iMac, the first iPod, the iPhone and more.  Whether one likes Apple’s tight management of content or not, the designs are beautiful and functional – and the audience was quick to respond.

Beyond his immense technical imagination – it’s unlikely that anyone else in the 20th century will be credited with more culture-defining breakthrough products – Steve Jobs had an immense degree of loyalty and vision. How many founding CEOs, having been ousted, would consider returning to dig the company out of the hole its new management had created? Jobs cared more about what the company could be, and went back to help it become that.

Some sources say that Steve Jobs “wanted to make a dent in the world.”  Steve, you did it. May you rest in peace.

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  1. Great and thoughtful tribute. Love the video from the 1984 Mac, amazing! It’s so easy to forget that none of this had really been seen before, he was, and remained, a visionary.

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