The passing of Steve Jobs is indeed a sad day for those of us who remain passionate about technology, innovation and changing society. But the global mourn-fest that we have seen on the web so far, from President Obama downwards, diminishes rather than edifies the memory of Steve Jobs.
In an age where a culture of low-expectations, short-termism, risk aversion and the abrogation of responsibility is rife, the passing of Steve Jobs is certainly something to mark. Where others followed convention, bowing to known outcomes often driven by focus-groups, Jobs followed his instincts and self-belief and was willing to risk all to get where he believed he needed to go. In all of these respects, especially today, he was a man out of his times. Above all he was a leader in an age where leaderlessness is all too prevalent, from Obama to the EU and through almost every corporate boardroom in the Western hemisphere.
But to honour these qualities we should not elevate him onto a pedestal or create a cult around him, but rather redouble our efforts of emulating his enduring innovative spirit. And that means taking on the barriers to innovation that beset Western society today.
Don’t praise Ceaser, bury the myths
Of course people are shocked and sad by the news and the first reaction was to share their emotional responses on Facebook and twitter. But the tenor and content of many of the obituaries are problematic.
Steve Jobs did not cure cancer, nor did he cure the common cold which is not what you might expect to hear had you been reading many of the obituaries published today. Pure genius? In some respects perhaps, in many others, definitely not.
Let me be clear: I am a decades-old Mac evangelist. I certainly praise Apple for having made great strides in changing humanity’s conception of computing. But let’s not get carried away considering that Microsoft’s windows was the starting point from which we measure this. Apple certainly came a long way but to suggest that we’re at the end of the journey, or that because Steve Jobs is gone, we can go no further, is to trash the very spirit of Steve Jobs.
Again, I love my iPhone, my iPad and iPods.
There remain an enormous number of problems that need solving that will mean transcending existing Apple devices.
- The iPhone, for example, remains tethered to yesterday’s voice paradigm which has not fundamentally changed in over 100 years;
- All the devices suffer from poor battery performance, the iPhone in particular;
- While user generated content has been made easier by Apple software, content remains tied to business models and IP structures that prefigure the digital age;
- Touchscreen interfaces are certainly an advance, but serious usability issues remain tied as we are to yesterday’s data structures and models.
There are many more issues I can list. My purpose is to suggest that there remains a lot of work to be done.
Instead of burying ‘Ceaser’, we should be pledging and plotting how we can take up the mantle Jobs has left us.
What will you do if today was your last day?
The salience of Job’s pledge to himself, to maximise his time, should be our starting point:
- What are you going to do to challenge today’s culture of low expectations?
- How are you going to win the argument for technological advancement in an age of environment-correctness that is increasingly hostile to technological progress?
- What are you going to do to challenge corporate short-termism and risk-aversion in your quest for innovation?