I’ve been reflecting over the past week about the death of Steve Jobs and why we are all so profoundly sad at the loss, and what it all means for the future of Apple, of technology, of innovation.
While the percentage of people mourning the loss of Steve Jobs who actually knew him in person is quite small, so many people, including myself, were very saddened by the loss even though we never met him. I’ve been pondering the reasons why.
I think while we all appreciate his contributions to society, we also have a curiosity about people which can’t be contained especially when that person is as brilliant as Jobs. Let’s face it, he was also an interesting character to watch. Even though he was a billionaire, he snubbed the unwritten rules for people of his stature and dressed like a poor college student. His privacy also added a layer of intrigue as people wanted to know more about what made him tick. And success stories as large as his are interesting, especially given the number of failures he experienced along the way. I think stories like Jobs’ inspire people and remind us that while failure is a fact of life, it should never stop us from pursuing the next dream.
To see someone with all of Jobs’ success and fortune succumb to something that didn’t care how much money or success he had – it’s sad. It makes us think of our own mortality and how all the money in the world can’t buy good health so we should make a difference in the world in a big or small way while we are still here.
I think after the shock set in when the news got out, the initial concern a lot of people had was what will it mean to the future of Apple and to the future of innovation. I admit, I wondered the same thing. Because a significant portion of our household income is directly reliant on the success of Apple, Inc., it is a legitimate concern to be sure.
The company grew from about $50 per share in 2000 to the nearly $400 per share it is at today, after two splits. Here’s a great graphic that describes the company’s growth in great detail, dating back to the 1980’s. I’m no finance person — in fact, the few times I had to cover stock holder meetings when I worked for a daily newspaper, they may as well have been conducted in Japanese, which I do not speak, by the way — but in my uneducated opinion, that type of growth is very rare and nearly impossible to sustain. I’d be interested in hearing examples of another company with similar growth that was able to continue the momentum decade over decade over decade.
Most analysts and financial types predict the company will continue to grow without the presence of Jobs. I also believe it. But I would be shocked if Apple had another decade like the last. But here’s the thing — I would be shocked if that happened even if Steve Jobs were still among the living.
The man was brilliant, no doubt about it. But one man can only do so much and carry so much knowledge. His innovative knowledge was built around personal computing and the mobility of it. I think now that we have figured out as a society what we need in personal computing (thanks to Jobs who showed us what we needed before we even knew it), we will keep building on the momentum Jobs created, and on the foundation that he laid over the past 10 years. And I completely expect Apple to remain the leader in that regard. But when our focus is turned to another type of technology, whether it be commercial space travel, or hovercraft vehicles, or, more likely, something we could never even imagine right now, there will be another visionary who will step up and change the world as we know it and become the visionary of that time in history, as Steve Jobs was with this moment in time.
So while his passing is sad, we should be celebrating his life and appreciating the things he brought to us. And those things were not at all insignificant.