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Steve Jobs and the sound of silence

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Steve Jobs at D8 by Asa Mathat | All Things Digital

Like many of my colleagues in Silicon Valley, I was having a fantastic day today. It is crisp in the shade, warm in the sun. The skies are a magical blue with puffy clouds floating like dreams. And when all seemed to be going well, an email in my inbox — without as much as the new message sound — arrived: Letter from Steve Jobs. It was as if the inbox was observing the solemnnity of the occasion. It is an end of an era.

The first thought that ran through my head was about Steve’s health, and I thought to myself that this cannot be good. I don’t care about him being the CEO or head of Apple. What I really do care about is his health. He wouldn’t be making this decision unless things were pretty dire.

It is incredibly hard for me to write right now. To me, like many of you, it is an incredibly emotional moment. I cannot look at Twitter, and through the mist in my eyes, I am having a tough time focusing on the screen of this computer. I cannot hear the sounds of the street or the ring of my phone. The second hand on my watch moves slowly, ever so slowly. I want to wake up and find it was all a nightmare.

And while I wish for him to have more time with his family, I am also being very selfish. I will miss the thespian who made inanimate objects like a computer become a thing to behold. A few years ago, I compared Steve to Howard Hughes using the line, “Some men dream the future. He built it.”

Steve Jobs, the maverick who has architected one of the greatest comebacks in the history of Silicon Valley, continues to prove that he is a modern-day Howard Hughes. Unpredictable, charming, loving, petulant, and perhaps more than anything deviously mysterious. But more than anything brilliant.

I have watched him from afar. I have learned from his decisions. And yes, there have been the products Apple has built — especially those in the most recent decade. Jobs has had an incredible influence on me.

Jobs (and by extension, Apple) (s AAPL) has taught me (and I am sure others) a big lesson: If you want to change something, you have to be patient and take the long view. If Apple and Steve’s incredible comeback teaches us something, it’s that when you are right and the world doesn’t see it that way, you just have to be patient and wait for the world to change its mind.

Today, we are living in a world that’s about taking short-term decisions: CEOs who pray to at the altar of the devil called quarterly earnings, companies that react to rivals, politicians who are only worried about the coming election cycle and leaders who are in for the near-term gain.

And then there are Steve and Apple: a leader and a company not afraid to take the long view, patiently building the way to the future envisioned for the company. Not afraid to invent the future and to be wrong. And almost always willing to do one small thing — cannibalize itself. Under Steve, Apple was happy to see the iPhone kill the iPod and iPad kill the MacBook. He understands that you don’t walk into the future by looking back. If you do, you trip over yourself and break your nose. Just look at Hewlett-Packard, (s hpq) and you know what I am talking about.

As a founder of a company, Steve’s biggest gift to me is not the MacBook or the iPhone. Instead it’s the confidence to disrupt myself. Whitney Johnson, a founding partner at Rose Park Advisors recently wrote:

We typically define disruption as a low-end product or service that eventually upends an industry. But I’ve found that the rules of disruption apply to the individual too. Or as thought leader Jennifer Sertl writes, “innovation ultimately begins on the inside.”

Jobs is a perfect example of that. He could have settled for status quo and gone on as the chief executive. But why wait? After all, he is the man who can see the future better than most of us. And even if it means a full stop to what has been an incredible career.

Thanks, Steve.

146 Responses to “Steve Jobs and the sound of silence”

  1. Om, you have said that you only write when you have something to say. You certainly did today. Thanks for a thoughtful tribute that is better than anything else I’ve read tonight.

  2. Manish Chandra

    One sentence sums it call “You Rock Steve Jobs” even though I haven’t used any of apple products but I love your ideas and I love the way you execute those ideas.You will continue to remain relevant thank you for showing us that “An idea can change the world”

  3. From “Self-Reliance”
    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  4. PXLated

    Everything seems to be written as an obituary. For all we know, this could just be another in the progressive steps from iCEO to CEO, to now chairman where he can focus on just key relationships/things (China, etc) now that the company and it’s products are performing like a well oiled machine with a well thought out plan.

    I’m hoping that’s the case.

    • IntrepidCoward

      Thank you Om. Thank you Steve. I have been a fan since I saw you (Steve) introducing the Mac in 1984. I have three heroes: Albert Einstein, Ram Dass, and Steve Jobs. Thank you Steve, I am humbled by your genius.

      • I hear you. Doing your own tiny startup is a lonely, hard road with many disappointments and set backs. It was seeing Steve wage his own battles and ultimately succeeding that gave me courage to continue on many occassions. I’m not there yet and today’s announcement makes me realize just how much I was still using him as inspiration. Now we know he’s a crutch we will not be able to lean on much longer, and we will have to make our own way without him.

      • BTW, Om Malik, you are one of those folks I regard as one of the stand outs in our industry.

        Miss seeing you in video from the days when you appeared on Davorak’s Cranky Geeks podcast. Just loved your demeanor!

  5. Elizabeth Boylan

    I hope Steve has decades to enjoy time with his family, having fun and as Chairman of the Board of Apple! He’s full of surprises and could very well be around for another 20- 30 years…who knows for sure?

  6. Rob Vinciguerra

    I’ve got my money on Apple going back to what it was while Jobs was gone. It has already lost in the OS market, is facing pressure from Google in the smart phone market, and eventually someone will build a better iPod and they’ll be lost.

    POLL: Now that Steve Jobs has resigned, what do you think will happen to Apple?

  7. Beautifully put, Om. Many a tear today, and many who in looking at their own life’s purpose and the roadblocks that one must fight through to realize one’s dreams, are left with a deepening appreciation of how much the inspiration provided by Jobs made THEM want to be…BETTER.

  8. Sam Whitmore

    Hi Om… forgive the gender-ization here, but Steve succeeded because has balls. Your use of “petulant” is a mild way to put it. :-) The best thing that ever happened to him was (former Apple CEO) John Sculley kicking his ass out of the company back in ’86 or ’87. Steve never stopped feeling the pain of that, and it made him a despot. We are all the better for it.

    • Om, I know some have said that this reads like an obit, but I know where you’re coming from, in that his situation must be serious. Let me just say that you hit the nail on the head when you said “Some men dream of the future. He built it.” Truly poignant words . . . it’s how Steve rolls!