I bought my first Mac in 1988. My brother, being a bit younger, had been into ZX Spectrum and that kind of thing, but I had not. When I was at college we were taught computing with punch card and ticker tape ( I am not that old, but the college was that out of date in 1981). I had never been even slightly interested in computers and didn’t want to learn and then a friend showed me his new Macintosh Classic.
The genius of it, from my perspective, was that I didn’t have to learn how to use a computer, I could just point, click and do stuff. Suddenly a whole new world of creativity and communication opened up to me. At school my hand writing had been deemed so poor that they spent a lot of time trying (and failing) to teach me how to shape letters and little time teaching me to actually communicate in writing. Once I had my own Mac (an LC2) I set about learning to write, to use desk top publishing, to design and so on. It was all so intuitive.
I went on to write books, write a blog to over 3000 people for six years, work from anywhere, set up web sites, buy a string of Macs (12), plus iPods, iPhones etc. The facility that these devices provided has enabled me to do things with my life that I would not have been able to do otherwise.
Much has been written about Steve Jobs particular brand of “control freakery” both in terms of his management style and in the way that Apple products are all tightly controlled. The consequence of his obsession was a pared down minimalism and ease of use that few others come close to. The flip side is an apparent loss of choice. This raises a question of how much choice is actually helpful?
I find often find myself wishing for Mac like simplicity and iPhone like lack of choice. Our home heating system, which requires an engineer with years of training, the clock on our cooker, TV remotes with 50 buttons (the Mac one has six), anything which requires a manual in fact. Even restaurant menu’s with more then about eight items.
We don’t always want choice, very often simplicity is preferable. A Formula One car, is, in many respects a “better” car than an average road car. It has adjustable everything and requires a couple of hours work by talented engineers, just to get it ready to drive. The driver can control 20 different variable from the steering wheel, the centre of which is entirely covered by knobs and buttons. It is suitable for it’s purpose, but that level of choice is entirely unnecessary and undesirable in the car we take the kids to school.
Steve Jobs brilliance was his own ascetic self discipline. His willingness to keep saying no, until the product was right. Few of the rest of us are willing or able to obsess over the finest detail of our creations to that point of perfection. It was this self discipline that earned him the reputation as a hard task master and also created such beautifully crafted products.
The lesson for the rest of us in our businesses and in life, is that it is not always a race to the bottom, in terms of quality and price. Premium products and services can also be hugely successful if they are good enough and making things good enough requires the ability to keep saying “no” until it is ready.
Perhaps part of the outpouring of emotion was to do with a loss of hope. At some mildly distorted level Steve represented hope, in our increasingly challenging world. His sense of clarity and purpose was transmitted through the products. With Steve gone, who will be our source of optimism? He will be missed.
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