I am profoundly saddened by Steve Jobs passing. His vision and unique ability to execute changed the world many times over. Some people say that no one ever truly dies until they are forgotten. I believe that this is true. If it is, Steve will live in the hearts and minds of all of loved and respected him forever.
Steve has been in the new quite a bit these past few days – fitting tributes to a life well lived. I received this email from my friend Bob Lambert, the CEO of LA-based the digital firm, who served for 25 years served as chief technical strategist for The Walt Disney Company and Disney Studios. I was so taken with this writing; I asked Bob if I could share it with you. I don’t think I could say it any better.
Oceans of ink will be written about Steve Jobs passing this week, but I wanted to add my own voice and personal comment to this.
I’m saddened by the loss of a brilliant man before it was time for him to go. It was one of the greatest honors of my career to have crossed paths with him serendipitously so many times along the way.
Steve was more Galileo than Edison. His ideas and persistence and vision changed the way we see the world, literally and figuratively. And, like Galileo’s world, there were both personal and professional bumps in the road, success and tragedy.
Really good technology does not revolve around clever engineers and fast processors; instead, it orbits most successfully around people, and the ability to connect us in simple ways with tools for our everyday lives and our imaginations.
It is with thoughtful, human-centric design that we escape the bounds of overly complicated stuff, bypass frustration, and instead learn, teach, have fun, and connect with people, music, and art in new and inspiring ways. It’s exactly that kind of ideation and innovation, that lets the human spirit soar, and new businesses blossom.
Inventors and entrepreneurs like Steve teach us that a clever idea CAN change the world…or at least a portion of it that we learn to carry in our pocket every day.
I first bumped into Steve at Apple, before the Sculley and Amelio years. At the time, I didn’t “get” the Apple thing. It seemed a loyal band of semi-rabid followers, like the early advocates of Amiga Computers. We all have a chance to be wrong.
In the late 1980s, Steve came to Disney to evangelize – and that is exactly the right word – NeXT Computers. As the senior-most technology exec at Disney Studios, I set up a meeting with then Disney chiefs Frank Wells, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. I watched my career do a perceived-unravel in a small conference room while Steve pounded them with verve combined with vitriol; extolling the virtues of the sleek black cube called NeXT, saying it was simply “idiotic” if people didn’t get the significance.
NeXT was, indeed, packed with a dictionary, business tools, graphics tools, a cool interface, even an encyclopedia – nearly twenty years before anyone heard of “Wikipedia.” Our execs were nonplussed, and America wasn’t quite ready for it, either. Steve only ran NeXT for a couple of years before moving on, though they did make a big sale to a major film producer’s on-lot production division, who found the sleek black cubes fit in nicely with the all-black Hollywood office decor.
Even back then, Steve saw a concept none of the rest of us would visualize until decades later: technology as fashion. You buy your next phone not because it’s packed with new features, but because it’s stylishly new and hip and au courant.
I connected with Steve again years later, when he stepped in to write a big check to re-fund Pixar. In 1986, just as Pixar’s fortunes as a hardware maker (PIC-1 image computers) were dwindling, and years before they set their first film production deal with Disney, Steve saw an opportunity. Just as Disney was about to close a multi-year software development deal with Pixar, Steve become Pixar’s largest investor. The first week of October 1986 – 25 years ago this week – Disney and Pixar signed their first business deal, with Steve’s explicit head-nod to partner with Disney in a new field that would only a few years later garner the two companies an Academy Sci-Tech Award – and, a few years after that, launch a string of some of the most successful and beloved movies of all time.
As poetic justice would have it, almost exactly 20 years after Steve helped enable Pixar’s first efforts, Disney would purchase animation’s new king in a $7.4 billion deal, making Steve the largest single shareholder of the Mouse House, and seating him as a wonderful new one-man brain-trust among Disney’s revamped board of directors. He would soon become one of Disney’s (and the entire media industry’s) most valuable advisors on pioneering new ideas in content, technology, business models, and consumer demand.
He was exhaustingly brilliant in his tireless advocacy of doing the right thing, and took the long view of what consumers, not engineers, really want to do with technology – quite simply, to make lives and careers simpler, easier, and more fun.
I will not be the most eloquent of the people who have something insightful to say about Steve Jobs this week. But, I can say from the heart that he was, and is, an American original; an inventor and marketeer extraordinaire – a little bit Edison, a little bit Tesla, and a dash of P.T. Barnum – all rolled into his own unique style of denim and black turtleneck.
When you see something inventive this week, celebrate it. There’s a little of that Jobs spirit in all of us, insisting there’s always a better way to do things.
Tip your hat to the folks in your world who help make that happen.
Lambert is CEO of LA-based the digital firm, and for 25 years served as chief technical strategist for The Walt Disney Company and Disney Studios.