Five Perspectives on Steve Jobs: Reflections from Around the Xconomy Network

10/7/11Follow @curtwoodward

When the news broke that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died, there was no shortage of tributes and remembrances, from names big and small. And they’re still pouring out, from entrepreneurs, technologists, consumers, and more.

We were able to tap into our network of guest authors, known as the Xconomists, for some insights into Jobs’ legacy and impact. We got some wonderful answers, even on very short notice, from all around the country—and in one case, from an author who was traveling overseas (he sent the piece from his iPad, of course).

—Tech entrepreneur and scientist Stephen Wolfram shared some revealing tales of working with Jobs over the years—and he even threw in a scan of Jobs’ old NeXT business card.

But the best part is probably a story from the famously private Jobs’ personal side, when a meeting with Wolfram evolved into Jobs asking for some dating advice.

“He said he couldn’t go to dinner, and actually he was quite distracted, because he was going out on a date that evening—and he hadn’t been on a date for a long time. He explained that he’d just met the woman he was seeing a few days earlier, and was very nervous about his date. The Steve Jobs—so confident as a businessman and technologist—had melted away, and he was asking me—hardly a noted known authority on such things—about his date,” Wolfram wrote.

“As it turned out, the date apparently worked out—and within 18 months the woman he met became his wife, and remained so until the end.”

Jeremy Jaech, an entrepreneur who co-founded Aldus, remembered Jobs as a visionary and “the most persuasive person I ever met.”

“Aldus and desktop publishing came about because Steve had a vision of what was possible by marrying a plain paper copier to a computer to make the Apple Laserwriter. When the Laserwriter was introduced it cost $7000, more than twice as much as the HP Laserjet. And there were no applications that could make the Laserwriter do anything more than the Laserjet could do,” Jaech wrote.

“But the potential was there and PageMaker unlocked it. Steve brought a product to market knowing that someone would take advantage of it, but not knowing who that would be.”

Nathaniel Borenstein of Mimecast, and co-creator of the MIME e-mail standard, recalled an early encounter with Jobs as evidence of his intellect and drive to make things happen.

“I saw this first-hand in the 1980s, when he visited my team at Carnegie Mellon. We introduced him to sending pictures, fonts, etc., through e-mail. He saw the value instantly, and tried to hire the whole team on the spot … Nobody ever “got it” faster than Steve—and when he got it, he made things happen in a hurry,” Borenstein wrote.

“One of Steve’s least-mentioned talents was his mastery of e-mail. He was surely flooded with it, yet he answered more promptly than I can. I’ve spent my whole career working on e-mail, but if he had written a book on how to manage your e-mail, I would have bought it the day it was released.”

—The University of Washington’s Ed Lazowska, a leading computer science academic, was among many people to zero in on Jobs’ influence on design: “Design is at least as much about what to omit as it is about what to include, and Jobs was a master of both,” Lazowska wrote.

But on the other end of the spectrum, down in the nitty-gritty details of business, Jobs “made monumental contributions to business models. The iTunes store. The app store. The iPhone. These have revolutionized the music industry, the software industry, and the telecommunications industry,” Lazowska wrote. “Honestly, there has been no one like him.”

Christopher Bowe, a healthcare analyst for Informa, said pharma executives could learn something from Jobs’ ability to refocus Apple on a smaller set of premium products that would define the company and cause big disruptions.

“Can any big pharmaceutical company leader strip a company down to that essence? Can she or he redirect internal resources towards a core of innovation that results in reverberating, disruptive value?” Bowe asked.

“The lesson from Jobs is that despite a crowded, distracting, and even commoditized market, focusing on disruption trains an entire company to know its purpose—and to seek much more than incremental value.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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