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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. Although I thought it was a nicely put tribute to Steve Jobs, I was put off by the drama of how “incredibly hard” it was to write those lines, the teary eyes, etc. Thousands of people at RIM, Cisco, and HSBC have received emails from their leaders these past weeks, telling them their positions had been eliminated, and that they would be escorted out by security guards, getting their layoff papers on the way out. Now, that is an email that shocks your existance. The “Letter from Steve Jobs” you received is just about someone taking a different position at your company. Try a layoff letter if you want something to shock your world…

  2. Jason Thibeault

    Bravo! Unlike the analysts that drive our capital markets (and impact stock prices with unfounded and subjective commentary on what it means for Jobs to step down) you have hit the nail on the head: there is positive in this. Even though I agree that, for Steve, this kind of personal disruption is good for him as well ( it’s also positive for the company. As humans, maybe we tend to look at the negative. When we say “Steve Jobs has resigned,” we all hang our heads and wonder what lies in store for the future. Rather, why not look at “Steve Jobs has resigned” and give a thumbs up? This is a new era for a venerable company. Steve built a culture of innovation and vision within Apple, not just a company bent on selling products (well, okay, there’s that too). That culture will not leave with Steve. And the new CEO, Tim Cook, is well entrenched in it. I believe that disruption will come for Apple, but slowly, and that when it comes, we should all be excited for the results.

  3. Thanks, Om. And here’s Steve, from his 2005 Stanford commencement speech –
    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

  4. Emmanuel Amamoo-Otchere

    Point of Note, Jobs doesn’t see the future, in fact he doesn’t profess to know the future, rather he believes in taking calculated decisions in bringing together techno-ideologies which intend become futuristic. And that’s what makes him a brilliant mark apart from the rest.

  5. Very well written Om, but i agree with some of the comments, Steve Jobs is still to stay, he has merely resigned from the CEO position at Apple.. We wish him the best of health and wish him sincerely that he is able to battle his health problems. The last decade under his leadership brought about some phenomenal products from Apple and we all are enjoying using them in our daily lives..

  6. Alexander Drewniak

    One of the best and most touching pieces I’ve ever read in GigaOm or any other blog for that matter. Captures the emotion many of us in the technology industry feel to a tee.

  7. Bill Greene

    Very touching to read and even inspiring. The thought that comes to mind is, are we writing his eulogy early so he can read it? If so awesome job! Steve is definitely a person who hasn’t let the confines of status quo box him in. He definitely color’s outside the box and a leader among leaders. Yes, he seems to have said goodbye under his terms and what else can any of us hope for than that. Even in what seems to be an goodbye he is looking beyond the moment. Steve, you have taught the world a Hugh lesson. May you see beyond the foreseeable future to reap the benefits of your life’s work, may you spend the remainder of your days on earth with the ones you love and love you. And when and only when the end comes please know your work isn’t done. There must be a need for the largest refresh unknown to man. God Bless!

  8. swimtwobirds

    stirring stuff, this however –

    “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. ” may be a maudlin bridge too far. If steve jobs were within reach, he would likely crack you over the head.

  9. Deb Santagata

    What a great article. You not only honor the life work and reamrkable brillance of Steve Jobs, you provide some profound insights for everyone related to guiding change, innovation, leadership and dreaming vs building the future. If only more people had this type of thinking and discipline…just imagine. Thank you

  10. Niamul Arifin

    These words will never be forgotten. I appreciate the effort and time that Steve jobs putted into this company & provided some masterpieces in our daily lives.