Thursday, September 08, 2005

Apple of our iPods

I am not normally inclined to write about the achievements of individuals - less so in eulogizing terms, and even less so when they are alive. Neither am I particularly enamoured of the Apple breed of computers or the iPod, having hardly used either.

However, there comes a time when exceptions to general rules must be made, and this is such a time. Beyond a doubt, one of the most amazing - and inspiring - tales in the annals of the technology industry is that of Steve Jobs. Let me hasten to add that I know almost nothing of him as a person - for all I know, he may be cold, aloof and unfriendly (and perhaps he even snores!). However, I do not care about those things - based on the public record of his achievements alone, he is clearly one of the most incredible role models for anyone with more than a passing interest in technology.

Let's count the ways. He pioneered an entire industry (Personal Computers), started a very successful company (Apple), actually managed to get thrown out of the very company he started (surely a feat achieved by the rarest few!), and then started another pioneering company (Pixar). He then proceeded to make a comeback to Apple more than a decade later, battled and defeated cancer, and then refashioned Apple, which many had written off, all over again into a powerhouse of innovation. Business Week reports that today, "Apple makes wildly imaginative products with a consistency few companies rival".

My favorite part of this story is of course, the history of how Apple started. Steve Wozniak and Jobs's garage-to-riches story is now the stuff of legend. These guys had, between them, the foresight to realize that there would indeed be a market for low-cost personal computers (virtually unknown at the time), the technical wizardry to create a working PC, and the business acumen to build an industry. Along the way, they pioneered some of the most well-known concepts in personal computing.

A window into his life which is both poignant and revealing is this year's commencement address he gave at Stanford University - Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. Reading the transcript, we realize why getting evicted from the company he founded didn't faze him one bit, as none other than his own mother had rejected him (and even before he was born, to boot!). We see the beginnings of his business acumen, in that he managed to survive with virtually no income after dropping out of college. We note his incredible ability to live the hard life - he used to get one good meal a week, and only by walking 7 miles to the Hare Krishna temple. He even talks about the lessons that getting fired from his own company taught him! His near-death brush with cancer is recounted.

As with many other people who were legends in their lifetime, we see an ability to compress many lifetimes into one.