Seven years ago on this day, Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple and a man held up as one of the most remarkable innovators of modern times, died at his home in Silicon Valley, aged 56.
To commemorate the day, this morning Apple CEO Tim Cook posted a picture of Jobs in his prime with the simple message: "Steve showed me – and all of us – what it means to serve humanity. We miss him, today and every day, and we’ll never forget the example he set for us."
We couldn’t agree more. So, we set ourselves the difficult task of picking just seven times – one for each year he has been dead – that Steve has served humanity and set examples for all of us to follow. It truly is an inspiration.
Bringing the world's knowledge to all
If there is one thing that has helped humanity progress more than anything else it is the ability to record knowledge so it can act as a foundation for the next generation and the next. We are talking, of course, about books.
And while Steve Jobs didn’t invent books – although he probably would have done if he'd been born in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago – he was alive during the emergence of ebooks as a simple, practical way to share that knowledge.
Steve's drive and desire for the betterment of all led him to pull together several of the world's largest publishers – Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster – to make their products available on the revolutionary iPad.
At a time when those companies were suffering from a low-cost model pushed by online bookstore Amazon, Steve stepped up and gave them an outlet to sell their humanity-enhancing products, perhaps savings books for a generation.
And all he asked for his selfless action was the ability to set the prices and a 30 per cent cut. Sadly, as has happened too many times in Steve's life, his magnanimous actions were misunderstood and even punished when Apple was found guilty of price fixing and Steve was even accused of carrying out a "conspiracy" by a judge.
It's worth noting that the gutless law administrator only said that after Steve had already shuffled off this mortal coil. She wouldn't have had the guts to say that when he was still alive. She's a disgrace. Steve is not though; he's a saint. He saved books.
Revolutionizing the job market
There is a reason that Steve's home town of Palo Alto in Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest suburbs on the globe: he put his business there. And as a result of his extraordinary success, Apple was able to bring the very finest minds from across the planet to him in order to create the next revolutionary product.
Of course those same people were in huge demand by other corporations across the globe, and so as a result were in a position to make large salary demands. As a man of the people, Steve worried about the impact of too much concentrated wealth, especially in his own town.
And so he again used his extraordinary charisma and persuasive skills to gather together the heads of companies that would normally compete ferociously and persuade them to work together for the betterment of his own neighborhood by not poaching key staff and keeping wages low. Although he had a global impact, Steve also knew that you have to act local too.
And against all the odds, he persuaded and cajoled them to collaborate to ensure that their workers did not disrupt the sensitive financial eco-system of Palo Alto and the larger Bay Area by driving wages ever higher while also ensuring greater job security for all of them.
Sadly this extraordinary example of philanthropy – of patriotism – was mischaracterized by another judge as a "no poaching pact" and the short-sighted, mean-spirited bureaucrat ordered Apple to pay tens of millions of dollars in so-called compensation to those affected.
Never afraid to teach that life can be harsh
Despite becoming extremely rich, Steve never lost his head when it came to money and was always willing to help others make sure they didn't either.
Even in his early business career, with his closest friend and business partner Steve Wozniak, Steve never allowed complacency to creep into their lives. He negotiated a deal with Atari to make a new game and even a bonus if he managed to minimize the number of chips needed for the game.
Having cut the deal, Steve then helped make it happen by getting Wozniak to design it, and Wozniak was thrilled. "This was the most wonderful offer in my life, to actually design a game that people would use," Woz later recalled. Steve even inspired Wozniak to complete it in record time – just four days – so he could make a personal trip to an apple farm. And he offered Wozniak an equitable 50-50 split on the payment.
Wozniak did it and Steve split the money. But he didn’t mention the bonus. And, incredibly, Wozniak only found out about it ten years later, providing him with an extraordinary lesson in life: you should always know the details of any business transaction you enter into.
Wozniak confessed to having cried when he found out about the episode. Critics claim they were tears of upset based on the fact that Wozniak said subsequently "I just wish he had been honest." But in truth it was tears of joy at how his old friend Steve had helped him understand the complexities and pitfalls of life, and done so in silence for over a decade. Truly an example for us all.
Bringing tremendous honesty to business
Too often in business, people place politeness ahead of honesty – something that is understandable but ultimately doesn't help anyone. Steve was unencumbered by this inefficient way of working and for his entire career his co-workers relished his bluntness and refreshing willingness to speak his mind.
He brought a tremendous sense of internal pride to one group of engineers who he warned were a bunch of "fucking dickless assholes" because they told him they didn't think they could hit his deadline. But after his honest appraisal, they pulled up their socks, hit the deadline and proudly wore jackets with "Team FDA" on the back to show their appreciation for his candor.
Steve inspired one engineer to jump ship from Xerox to Apple by providing him with the pungently honest feedback: "Everything you've ever done in your life is shit." That engineer never looked back.
Likewise, Steve shook up social norms in an effort to bring the best out of people. During a job interview, he started pressing a candidate on when he had lost his virginity and when he didn’t answer, correctly surmised he was still a virgin from his red face and asked him to acknowledge that reality. Not every boss would be so considerate but Steve was. He even asked him about drug-taking, and interrupted him while he was responding to a technical question by shouting "gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble" over his answer.
It's a technique that all Fortune 500 companies are expected to include in their recruitment process in future as a way of helping candidates realize for themselves whether they are a good cultural fit for a company. Steve, as ever, was years ahead of his time.
The plaster technique to limit emotional distress
Steve cared deeply about human beings. Nowhere was that more clear than when he recognized someone was unlikely to continue to grow at the various companies he worked at and for. Rather than the slow dehumanizing process of someone gradually tiring of their job, Steve had the emotional courage to adopt a version of tearing off a plaster: do it quick and fast.
Most famously, Steve gathered together the entire team behind a new service of online services and software that was then called MobileMe and would go on to become iCloud.
MobileMe was underperforming and so to inspire them, Steve called them all together and gave some honest feedback. "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" he asked the grateful team members and listened intently to their responses before concluding: "Then why the fuck doesn't it do that?"
And then, serving as a further inspiration and example to us all, he fired their team leader on the spot in front of them all and replaced him with a different executive. That executive was Eddy Cue. Truly inspiring and a lesson for everyone in managerial expertise.
Steve would often help people make significant career changes quickly. When he fired one employee at Pixar, she asked to be given two weeks' notice. "Okay," he responded, "but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago." She has never forgotten his generosity.
According to Apple legend, employees would dream about getting into an elevator with Steve because he would ask what they were working on and really dig into their work. It was his way of helping people lift themselves up, to be their best selves, and to show his interest in them personally; that they mattered.
A few snake-tongued individuals have focused in on the time that Jobs fired people in the elevator for not being their best selves – like the man who was there to fix a copier and was surprised to find himself being yelled at by the CEO for not giving a detailed rundown of his project – but in truth, the vast majority of elevator encounters did not result in Steve firing people and it was an invigorating experience for many employees who will often recall their interaction with the great man years later.
Encouraging the best in everyone
Steve wasn't just willing to help his own employees, however. He also shared his wisdom and experience and legendary focus on details with anyone he came across.
Like the old woman who worked at Whole Foods who was tasked with making Steve a smoothie. She was just making a smoothie – one of dozens she made that day – but Steve really helped her see the importance of every one of those drinks by pointing out all the things he spotted that was limiting her ability to give the absolute best smoothie to every customer.
He was even willing to extend this generosity to his critics. As we all know, Steve grew sick and eventually died from pancreatic cancer that may or may not have stemmed from his focused insistence on ignoring scientific medical treatment and relying on a better diet but such was his spirit that he chose not to weigh down others with the news of his sickness.
Some misunderstood that brave decision and felt he should have told investors about his ill health. They were wrong, but when one journalist decided to write some nonsense about the situation, Steve didn't flinch from helping him understand the bigger picture.
"You think I'm an arrogant asshole who thinks he's above the law," he told the scribe with the kind of self-effacing humor that only makes us love him more, "and I think you're a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong."
Given how ill he was, it was a remarkable act of faith that he made that call. An example that no doubt we all wish we could follow.
The ultimate lesson: be a parent to all
In many ways, Steve Jobs was a father figure. Not just to his employees and co-workers but the entire world. He guided our hand down to our first iPod; he was there when we were able to share the delight of our first iPhone lighting up; he gave us our first adult rubber band when the iPhone 4 didn’t work properly.
But while he was a remarkably attentive work father, he knew that the best lesson in life you can give anyone is not to rely too heavily on another human being. Because, as we found out to all our cost on October 5, 2011, people do die and when they are gone, they cannot come back.
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Knowing that instinctively, Steve bravely decided not to burden his daughter Lisa with an actual father. For years, despite her mother's efforts and society's expectations, Steve held onto his convictions and refused to acknowledge her, even taking the courageous decision not to financially support either her or her mother – his former partner.
We can only imagine the turmoil he endured as he fought the urge to support a helpless young girl that he had fathered, even as a DNA test revealed him as her father and she lived on welfare while he made millions from his extraordinary business dealings.
But even Steve couldn't maintain this extraordinary feat and just a few decades into his ultimate act of selflessness, he finally acknowledged her. His heart was simply too big. His humanity too great.
Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. Yes, you may have left behind the digital tools that we all use every day and which have made our lives immeasurably better, but the one thing you will be remembered for – as Tim Cook made clear today – is just what an incredible human being you truly were. Not an asshole at all. ®