I recently saw the new movie “Steve Jobs.” Based on the book by Walter Isaacson, it is a fictionalized yet fascinating study of a complex man. And although the events around product launches (Macintosh, NeXt, and the iMac) in a three-act format are entertaining, they are not necessarily accurate.
Over the course of my nearly 30-year career in high tech and marketing, I have personally met two of the people portrayed in the film: John Sculley and Steve Wozniak. Although I never met Jobs, I did see him speak at several industry events, including Comdex and Macworld. Those experiences were “insanely great” (to quote Jobs). I remember him wearing his infamous outfit: a black mock turtleneck, jeans, and white New Balance shoes.
As a young marketing manager for DEC in the early 1990s, I met with then-Apple CEO John Sculley at a partner event. I was involved in early-stage business intelligence (BI) and data warehouse marketing at the time. Most of the conversation centered on using Macintosh computers as a front-end for BI, data warehousing, analytics, and business solutions for back-end DEC systems and solutions – including SAP R/3 that had been ported to DEC platforms. Sculley was intrigued by my earlier consumer products background as a consultant fresh out of the Duke/Fuqua MBA program and my experience working on several projects for PepsiCo. He encouraged me to follow my passions around the confluence of business and technology, especially what we now know as Big Data and analytics. No, I did not discuss the “firing” of Steve Jobs, and I am pretty sure he did not show up at the NeXt and iMac product launches either. In retrospect, more than 20 years ago, it was a very cool moment.
Several years later, while working for the DEC Internet Business Group (IBG), I met Steve Wozniak. As he sat on a bench at the San Jose Convention Center at an Internet World event, I walked up to Woz, introduced myself, and shook his hand. He seemed almost embarrassed at his fame as people started to congregate around him. I had a bit of time before serving “booth duty” for DEC, so I sat down and we talked. Woz smiled when I told him how Apple II had profoundly impacted my life and choice of careers. He almost beamed when I spoke about how I had seen the future, automated a project on early-stage spreadsheets that took days to complete before and could now be done in minutes, and predicted that the PC would unlock the information utility delivered through the Internet. No selfies (smartphones were still in the future) and no celebrity autographs (Woz’s gig on “Dancing with the Stars” was also in the future) — just two guys with a passion for technology talking about what they love. “Insanely great,” for sure!
Jobs, Sculley, and Wozniak: what they taught me about being “insanely great”
When I think of these three men, phrases such as “it’s hip to be square,” “inspired thought leaders,” and “from geek to chic” all ring true. At times, we take these attributes for granted when we talk about those who are literally co-creators of the future – and this is especially the case for Jobs, Sculley, and Wozniak. Is that the key to being “insanely great?”
A year ago, several SAP colleagues and I volunteered to teach a sixth-grade class on design thinking and social media/marketing for an SAP corporate/social responsibility project. When I introduced “what is marketing,” I played Macintosh’s “1984” launch commercial. I was reminded how John Scully and the Apple board did not want to run this and almost killed it. Yet it is now known as one of the best TV commercials of all time. This is another example of how not running with the “in” crowd can lead to something truly insanely great. We also used the development of the Apple iPad to illustrate innovation and set up how design thinking factors into product and solution development.
Do yourself a favor and Google “Steve Jobs quotes.” You’ll see 58.5 million entries! But for me, the quote below (featured in the “other” Steve Jobs movie, “Jobs,” starring Ashton Kutcher) will always have a special place in my heart:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently…they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.”
Whatever your passion and calling in life, just make it great, as Jobs would say. Business is not a popularity contest, and Steve Jobs certainly did not manage one. After all, it takes lots of hard work and passion to be “insanely great.”
For more on what made Jobs a great leader, see Why Do People Either Love Or Hate Steve Jobs?
Fred M. Isbell is the senior director and head of thought leadership for SAP Services and Support Marketing.