The first time I saw him was at a conference back in the late 80s/early 90s where he gave a presentation of the ‘future’ of personal computing. As I recall (this was a long time ago), he talked about a prototype of this handheld device that would be like your assistant. This device/assistant would be able to communicate with you verbally and be able to pull information for you from the internet and be able to manage your contacts, your appointments-a true personal secretary. Again, a vision of what it ‘could’ be like.
Now this was at a time when the “Personal Computer” wasn’t personal at all—it was very impersonal and it was a ‘business’ thing that occupied most of your desk space and you didn’t carry it around-it was too big and heavy. The PC was used primarily to crunch numbers or perform some other very specific functions. There were even still a lot of ‘dumb terminals’ in the work place where ‘real work’ got done.
Steve then showed a video of this college professor preparing for a lecture about rain forests while he was finishing up dressing. He was talking to his ‘assistant’-an actual person that was in a window of the screen similar to a video conference-but it was the ‘persona’ of the handheld device. As the professor would carry on a conversation with his personal assistant and talk about the rain forests in South America the assistant pulled up images, stats, showed the changes over the years as they continued to discuss the topic. Then the professor remembered some expert in the field-an old contact and the assistant pulled up the profile and then facilitated a call with that person while the professor was putting on his tie. Future appointments were placed on the calendar while they were talking. When the discussion was over, the assistant assembled a draft report for the lecture-very incredible.
A number of years later, Apple came out with this interesting device-nothing like anything currently on the market-the IPad. Although it was different in form factor, it immediately reminded me of that presentation so many years prior-I could see that ‘future’ becoming present!
Steve was a visionary and he was a competitor—he pushed the envelope and wasn’t afraid to speak up and take on the other notables in the industry. However, to me he always seemed professional and rather than talking down others, he would talk up his ideas. Some of those early commercials that Apple put out made ‘IBM’ or PC users look like techno nerds that couldn’t tie their shoes—but that was funny-not personal attacks. So, yes, I was one of those the commercials were making fun of-and I was/is still a Steve Jobs fan.
There always seemed to be limitations on bringing apple into the enterprise. Applications related to mainframes or premium up-front costs that just couldn’t be justified. So my professional experience with Apple was limited—but I continued to follow Steve’s career and visions and messages.
Finally, after many, many years, I jumped into the apple pool when I got tired of my kids messing up the home PC, downloading viruses, memory issues, tons of ‘junk’ loaded on the box, etc.. So I stepped out of technical support at home and bought one—and it lives up to the labels of simplicity, user friendly, easy to interface with networks, printers, etc... I was converted—no longer the technician at home-my kids are. They can do anything and they train each other—my personal time in support has been eliminated. In fact, they seem to be showing me things every once in a while. There is something here that can be brought into the business world!
So what follows is my real tribute to Steve Jobs—what he always tried to make us Corp IT folks do—push past the limitations, the boundaries and get creative for the benefit of the ‘people’ (the ‘personal’ in PC)!
After that experience at home, I pushed ahead to do an IPad pilot in the work place. It was a very successful effort that created some key potential improvements in stores. An observation I took away from that pilot had nothing to do with technology. It was, once again, about people and how they react to change. I observed during the pilot some very successful people that had two different approaches. The first were those that only knew how to do things a certain way-they were intrigued with that new gadget and gave back minimal feedback and ideas.
Then there were those business folks in that other group-that were also anchored in results but seem to know that there ‘may’ be other ways to the ‘how’ things get done. They were very open to be creative and rethink the ‘how’. They shared their frustrations, the things they can’t do very well; the areas they were challenged in keeping up and how and what things they prioritized. They were willing to share-without concern that ‘weaknesses’ may be revealed in the process. ‘They’ did this because there was trust in this small group of people that were there to help make them successful.
Through that process, we moved way beyond the IPad and that ‘small group’ came up with a ‘solution’ to a business problem and also saved some trees in the process. We eliminated some wasted printing (100s of pages per week) and improved the ability of the management to train staff on the floor. We also created an application that took a few brilliant minds a few weeks that provided some vendor tracking and communication (no, not months and months and lots of dollars). And, it wasn’t about the IPad-it was about solving business problems-and the energy and excitement surrounding the store director that actually got the brain juices flowing because the IPad was such a valuable tool for the ‘person’.
Success is never determined by technology—success is driven by people. And when times are tough, the people that understand ‘service’ and are open minded to the variety of ways of getting things done-yet keeping their focus on delivering that service more efficiently, more effectively, improving customer satisfaction, providing value to their customer—that’s where success will continue to grow.
I’m not paying tribute to Apple-the tribute is to the leadership and influence of Steve Jobs. We have other great men in the business world-in fact there are even more great people that you will never hear about. Regardless, in today’s environment you need to understand the ‘people’ and value those people and their needs and not get hung up in standards, legacy and tradition.
And, yes, I do have an IPod and an IPhone-it was a tough conversion for me to the IPhone as I was a true blackberry user. It did take me a couple of months to transition and be totally comfortable with it. And I do still have a dell laptop—but my next laptop—it will be one of those Mac air ones. J