Published at OnIslam.net
Waking up to discover the death of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, I extend my condolences to his family over this double death, for while Steve may have been a family member, friend and colleague to many, I had never met him. Instead, the second death is more personal to me, that of entrepreneurialism and innovation.
It is rare for any person to take something that is already a household name like Apple, and redefining it into a global consumer brand that led and continues to lead the pack. The world has lost, in short, a genius and inspiration; and for this I share in his families loss.
Having co-founded Apple in 1976, Steve battled the odds to turn-around a near bankrupt company into one of the world’s largest. At a time when countries around the world are struggling to manage debt, with ministers looking for ways to encourage business, Steve’s death should remind us that it is not just ‘financial loans’ that businesses need, rather it is the spirit of creativity, doing things differently, focusing on quality, discovering solutions based on creativity, and addressing consumer needs in new ways. These are the values that bring true growth which, along with evolution, reflect humankind’s need to improve it’s time in this world.
My first encounter with an Apple Mac was as a child ex-pat growing up in Saudi Arabia. It was at a friends house with whom some rivalry began as we had just bought a Commodore 128. So began our divergent paths as we continued on parallel tracks until many years later where I crumbled and received an iPod. My first true Apple product, the design and simplicity of use made me question why I had spent so many years without the ‘Apple’ experience.
And yet, that remained my sole encounter as I shunned iPhone’s staying instead with Sony and Samsung, whose user interfaces now, ironically, borrow many of the iPhone inspired features and experiences. My fear, it seems, was less on the capability of the iPhone and more centered on pricing. Truth be told, without that higher price, without that premium, the quality of experience would not be there, the innovation could not be afforded, and the offering would not thus become something every other device manufacturer would want to copy. In a single swift move, the iPhone re-defined the consumer’s user experience, establishing a new baseline – not easy to do, in any industry.
Steve was not alone with regards to innovation and at times was eccentric, often shunning popular opinion for what he believed to be right. This determination became embodied in an Apple eco-system that focused not just on profits but on ‘betterness,’ the desire to ensure that anyone who enjoyed the experience would enjoy it, even if afterwards they openly discredited it all-the-while secretly loving it: some things just work, Steve ensured Apple was one of them.
The biggest lesson I have learned from Steve and Apple is that whether you are a brand or a service provider, if you are simply repackaging what has already come to pass, you are part of the problem and not the solution. You can, and should, charge a premium for a new (and better) offering, for as well as rewarding yourself financially, you’re empowerment of the end-user should be recognized. Thus Steve’s legacies for me, beyond the technologies, are his pricing models as people pay a premium for experiences that deliver ‘betterness.’
When industry leaders such as Bill Gates of Microsoft or Larry Page of Google speak highly of him; we know that beyond competition there is respect for an equal entrepreneur who influenced the world.
Some time ago I met with another inspirational character, John Landau, the producer of Titanic and Avatar. He imparted some words which reflect my own sentiment on this occasion: “The choices we make in life affect those around us and the world around us, (and) the more people we can communicate to, the better we are.” He continued, “Follow your passion, make stories about things that are important to you, and never give up. Never give up.”
To me these words reflect the energy of Steve Jobs who, up until his near end, played an active role in Apple. Of course, along with his drive was timing and opportunity, so if there is one message that can be learnt by my government here in the UK, it is that innovation as found in Silicon Valley cannot simply be created by establishing a ‘technology business park.’
Innovation is a mindset which blossoms when ideas are supported, yet all too often good ideas of the many are lost with no real eco-system in place to incubate them. With venture capital focused less on creating new ideas, instead on milking those which have already been created, we need a fundamental re-think of idea generation and growth.
For now, as a global community we have lost one of the leading innovators of our time. Let us hope that in remembering Steve’s death, we remember more his life, so as to create a better environment in which ideas and innovation can help improve all of our futures.
In 1993, Steve Jobs was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”
There are few who have managed to achieve both. From God Almighty have we come and to God Almighty is our return, and may God Almighty have mercy on those who have gone before us and those who follow, ameen.