Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
1978. I am sixteen years old. I sit before a device developed by two men not much older than myself. I sit before one of the first personal computers in the world, my Rev 0 Apple II. One of the first 150 in production. The manual is a xeroxed copy of designer Steve Wozniak’s code and a bit of Jobs explanation of how to use it in a dime store report holder with a clear plastic cover and a copy of their printed brochure with a picture of an Apple on it and the slogan:
“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.”
It was. There were no computer monitors in 1978. A cable to the TV with a switch between the antenna and the computer hooked it up.
There were no hard drives. No USB. No floppy drives even. The computer came with a few cassette tapes with the programs on them. It took up to three minutes to load them in, if it worked on the first try.
The Apple II case that resembled a typewriter, with some slots for add-on devices that hadn’t been dreamed up yet. It came with a joystick for playing a variation of “PONG” that had an integrated circuit chip at the end of the cable. You had to carfully plug in the pins to keep it from getting bent.
It all ran in 16K. Not 16 megabytes. Not 16 gigabytes. 16K. About what it takes to power up the corner of an icon on your iPhone.
The personal computer revolution was born. It revolutionized the lives of people like me. In a few years, the first floppy disk drives and more memory expanded the computer’s capacity. Printers, noisy dot-matrix affairs, were adapted to put words and crude images to paper. I remember the first word processor, and the creative paralysis that being able to change anything at will in my document caused me.
Apple was more than a neat techno toy. It was a movement to unleash the creative potential of humanity. Ridley Scott’s famous 1984 ad was fundamentally correct. Steve Jobs was on a mission not to re-engineer a device or two, but to re-engineer human-kind to learn, see, and do more than people could in ten lifetimes in years before the arrival of Apple.
After several years of working in Hollywood and not finding much happiness, in the 1990s I crossed over to the brave new world of Multimedia, whatever that was. I worked with Apple, evangelized and sold Apple product for nearly a decade, putting thousands of people in front of one for the first time. I was, and am, a believer. We were on a mission to change the world for the better.
It is late 1996. Steve Jobs is back at Apple. I’m sitting in a room full of sales people, evangelists, consultants and more. It has been a rough few years. Even though Apple had $5B in cash in the bank, Microsoft had engineered a brilliant rumor that Apple was going out of business, and that, if you didn’t standardize your business on Windows, your company’s future was going down the tubes with Apple.
Apple stock plummeted to $5 and $6 a share. CNBC pronounced the company dead. The Wall Street Journal dropped in the dreaded “beleaguered” any time Apple was mentioned. Both inside and outside sales and consultants were beating their heads against the wall, selling the lightbulb that does not burn out to people in the IT world who got paid great money to change lightbulbs for a living. Corporate sales were slipping. Retail was falling apart because stores like CompUSA didn’t want to have to train minimum wage employees selling $6000 systems in two operating systems.
So Jobs was back. He was standing in front of the big meeting hall at 1 Infinite Loop, Apple’s corporate headquarters, pacing back and forth in a pair of khakis and an all-too-casual shirt.
“3% of the American public is super smart,” he began. “They natively get anything. You guys are at 6% market share right now. The way you’ve been marketing, that’s 3% farther than you should be.”
He wasn’t scolding. He was observing. Processing. Creating something new right there. We were all waiting for the big vision. That next product that was going to put Apple back on the map.
“I’ve been working all night on something,” he said. “I want to show it to you.”
We all expected to see a product prototype on the screen. What emerged took some people back. It was a giant closeup of John Lennon, projected on the screen behind him.
I just got off the phone with the Lennon Estate. Yoko Ono has agreed to allow us to use John Lennon’s likeness.”
Then, over in the upper right hand corner, the words were projected: “Think Different.”
“We’re done with the business world as a focus. We need to get back to the consumer. Before we can sell them something, though, we have to have them “get it.”
He laid out the plan for a brilliant marketing campaign that would use the images of some of the greatest human beings that the world has ever known. People who inspired, who invented, who changed the world, or our world view. From Gandhi to Kermit the Frog. Think Different.
A bus in Montgomery skinned with a a photo of Rosa Parks. Think Different.
A six story photo of Alfred Hitchcock on a Hollywood Hotel, peering around the corner. Think Different.
Muhammed Ali, reaching down with his glove from a billboard, daring anyone on the street not to Think Different.
That was Steve Jobs ultimate gift. He has made some tremendous products. Stylish. Elegant. Easy. Powerful.
What he also has done, though, is make the world think different. Allow us to express, create, listen, think, and communicate faster, easier and better.
The “i” in everything was not for Internet. It was innovation. Trillions of dollars and hundreds of products later, Jobs’ catch phrase for a “personal” computer is as true now as the day that Apple’s societal revolution began.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Here’s to the crazy ones. You really did change the world, Steve.
Rest in peace.
My shiny two.