Thursday, October 6, 2011

But the Show Must Go On

The past several years, when people would ask me who I would like to meet if I could, my answer was always Steve Jobs.  Then the question would change.  "Okay, alive or dead, who would you want to meet?"  Well, that changed things.  There are a whole slew of people that are dead that I'd want to meet - Jesus, Disney, John Wayne, Lincoln, Washington, Franklin, Crockett, Houston, and the list goes on.  But in the living world, Steve Jobs was at the top of my list.

Here was a guy I could emulate.  He wasn't perfect, but the way that he thought about things, how he looked at things and his rebel streak were all so interesting to me.  He was one of those rare people about whom you can say, "he changed the world."  And mean it.

I have a good friend who actually got to work with Steve, and for that I'll always be jealous.  I would've loved to work at Apple - or even just to be a fly on the wall - and see how Steve worked on a daily basis. Steve was a visionary.  He not only came up with ideas, but he looked at the ideas of others in a way that no one else had.  He saw ways to incorporate those ideas with other ideas, to mash them together, to come up with the same type of product that others were already making (computers, music players, phones, tablets, etc.) but in a distinctly unique way.

It was Steve Jobs that taught me that it was okay to be particular and unapologetic about your opinions regarding design and things that you thought made things better.  It's okay not to like to see screws on a laptop chassis or to hate the sound of a fan in your computer.  And then work toward a world where those things don't exist, even if it's only in your little section of the world.

Some people referred to Steve's ability to see the world the way he envisioned it with laser-like focus - and to draw those around him into his vision - as his "reality distortion field."  People with great vision have a way of doing that.  Steve's keynote addresses were famous for that.  But in the iPhone 4S keynote presentation yesterday, there was a distinct lack of a reality distortion field.  Watching the video, it seemed as if the presenters were doing the best they could, half-heartedly.  There was almost a somber tone.  It seemed as though something were weighing on them.  I assumed that it was because they were trying their best to unveil a product that they knew people weren't going to be thrilled about, regardless of how amazing it is.  Only geeks care about tech specs.  Normal people just want something new and shiny and different.  Looking back on the video now, it seems to me that they knew why that seat up front marked "reserved" sat empty.  But they couldn't say anything.  They knew that their friend, their coworker, their boss and their mentor was dying.  They had to go through with the presentation, anyway.  But the show must go on.

There's even been some speculation, based on the fact that no time of death has been given, that Steve actually died on Tuesday and that the announcement of his death was held off for a day so that the news wouldn't overshadow the iPhone 4S announcement.  Steve was such a showman, so conscious of timing and of a good presentation that it certainly seems plausible, at least.  I doubt it, but it seems plausible.

I suspect that Apple shares will tank today.  For whatever reason, people just weren't satisfied with the iPhone 4S announcement and saw it as a misstep - the first without Steve at the helm.  That's not true, of course.  The iPhone 4S has been in development for well over a year.  Steve had his hand in it.  But because it was a speed bump and not a new form factor people are calling it a failure.  People were expecting to go to prom, but all they got was a Homecoming dance.  And now the prom king is dead.

This reminds me of Hurricane Rita.  It came hot on the heels of Hurricane Katrina and people simply panicked and over-reacted.  If Hurricane Rita had happened in a year other than Katrina, it wouldn't have been such a big deal.  In the same way, if Steve Jobs' death hadn't occurred the day after an underwhelming product announcement, people might just shrug it off.  But because of the events' proximity, I think people will equate the two.  I don't , but people will be people.

Today is going to be an interesting day.  Apple will survive without Steve Jobs.  As will Disney.  As will Pixar.  But it's certainly going to be different.  A legendary man has died.  A visionary. An innovator.  A leader.  A force to be reckoned with.  An inspiration.  An icon.

But the show must go on.

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