Thinking Different With Steve Jobs

No matter what you think of it – saviour or devil – Apple is the largest company in the world. Probably one of the most profitable, too.

Naysayers will say that Apple computers are underpowered. That they don’t deliver the value of a PC. That they follow trends instead of innovate. Like the iPad. Tablets had been around for years. Apple just made them popular.

It doesn’t really matter, the fact is the same; Apple has rabid fans that have propelled it to atmospheric standards.

And it all happened because of telling a story.

Back in the day, Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, was not a good storyteller. He had created a personal computer he called Lisa, after his daughter. It was the most advanced desktop computer ever created. He imagined one in every home.

He was the only one.

In his Wall Street Journal ad – 9 pages(!) long – he geeked out with reams of technical data: RAM, megabytes, buses, network protocols, etc. His ad proved that this was the most advanced desktop computer ever.

Apple sold a comparative handful of these computers. A bust. A total failure.

Steve got the boot from his own company.

In keeping with his lust for hardware, Jobs then started NEXT, a computer hardware company. He discovered that there was already a high end player in this field; a small company called Pixar.

Pixar made computers for medical imaging and a little company called NASA. As high end as you can think. In spite of this, they were not profitable.

Jobs bought up as much stock as he could and set out to make Pixar the next Apple.

He failed. The hardware never really took off. Fortunately, though, there was a guy from the original Pixar named John Lasseter. Lasseter had been approached by the makers of the Listerine mouthwash: could he make a 30 second cartoon via computer for the company and save money doing it?

He could, and Pixar, as we know it, was born. The company that would set the standards for storytelling everywhere.

For the next few years, Jobs was immersed in story. Pixar began to develop a reputation for telling great stories. A big enough reputation that another little company called Disney came calling with a script: Toy Story.

The rest, as they say, is money in the bank.

I’m sure there were many lessons that Jobs learned while at Pixar, but here are two that are important to me:

Clarity. Because animation is such a labour intensive medium, they had to be crystal clear on where they were going and how they were going to get there. To be fuzzy with their message would cost – literally – millions of dollars.

Know who the hero is. When Jobs created the Lisa, he thought the hero was the computer. He was wrong. The hero of the story was the computer user. At the time, there was no desktop market. No one had any idea why they would have a computer – which at the time took up a room’s worth of space at the office – in their home.

Jobs didn’t let them know what they could accomplish with this computer. He just bragged about how it had the latest everything.

But … and this is the key … he learned.

Apple continued to lose money and market share. In desperation, they hired Jobs back as CEO.

But it was a different Jobs that returned. It was a Jobs that understood how clear he had to be in all his communications. It was a Jobs who knew who the hero was.

His first ad campaign was considerably different than his 9 page WSJ ad. In fact, it was just two words long: Think Different.

That was truly the beginning of the Apple that we know now.

So what? Who cares about some rich billionaire who has now passed on?

I take great comfort in knowing that you can change your story. Is the story you are telling yourself not helpful? Change it.

I am writing these posts to get some clarity in my own life. The thing I am realizing, is that I want to change my current story. I believe it can be done.

I believe the same for you.


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