This past Friday marked the 1-year anniversary of Steve Jobs’ passing. As expected, the blogosphere was filled with various retrospectives meant to capture the impact Jobs had on the world at large and illustrate the challenges the tech world may face moving forward in his absence.
While reading a few of these pieces, one paragraph in particular struck a chord. It came from Om Malik over at Gigaom who wrote:
A long time ago, a wise old man once told me that money doesn’t solve all the problems. Money doesn’t invent the future. Money doesn’t create art. People do. People solve the problems. People invent the future. People create beauty and art. It is a simple lesson that has stayed with me. It is also the yardstick I use when I meet other people and how I gauge people. And that’s perhaps why I always admired Steve Jobs.
Indeed, in the world of technology it’s easy to get caught up in money; startups trying to raise money, companies and Wall Street analysts alike focusing on revenue and profits and earnings. Undoubtedly, money does make the world go round, but as opposed to some who simply want to cash out as soon as possible, money for Jobs was simply a means to an end, a means to create products that he and the masses simply adored.
Jobs said time and time again that Apple’s goal isn’t to create products in order to stack piles of cash to the ceiling. On the contrary, Apple’s ultimate goal is to push the boundaries of technology via innovation and ingenuity and money is simply the factor that helps them do that.
The history of the iPhone, for example, shows that Apple spared no expense in using the finest of materials, even when consumers might not be able to tell the difference between a second-rate alternative. When Jobs introduced the blue and white Power Mac G3, he famously boasted that the inside of the machine looked better than the outside of competitor’s machines. It’s why Apple goes the extra mile in procuring materials for its line of Apple retail stores – you might recall during the recent iPhone 5 unveiling that Tim Cook, when mentioning a new Apple retail store in Barcelona, Spain that Apple spent 2.5 years working every detail of the store, to get everything exactly right, even going so far as to use limestone from a local quarry to restore it and modernize it. “No one would have done this but Apple”, Cook boasted. And he’s right.
As Malik said, people create beauty and art and that was really Jobs’ ultimate goal. By focusing on design and the user experience, by looking at the design process as an art form, Jobs and Apple were able to really push the technological envelope and create products that have gone on to define generations and provide the blueprint for success for companies the world over.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Jobs and Apple weren’t money conscious. After all, you don’t amass over $100 billion in the bank if you’re not paying attention to your finances. But again, the money for Apple was simply the gas that fueled their creative drive. Apple starts off with the question – How can we make an amazing product with all of this money? Unfortunately, many other companies in the tech world begin by asking themselves – What products can we develop that will make us a lot of money?
It’s a slight difference, perhaps, but a rather significant one that cuts to the core of corporate culture and ultimately affects what type of products a company releases.
I think Apple has it right. And lest you think that Apple is the only company with this type of vision, I think Google is right there with Apple as well.