“Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dead at 56.”
Two minutes ago I read those words on Yahoo! news. Blinked slowly. Felt my stomach turn.
It’s no secret that I’m an Apple fanboy. Two of my kids have iPod touches. My wife and I sport iPhones. I preach from an iPad. Our family computer is a 27 inch iMac. My laptop is a Macbook pro. Shauna’s is a Macbook. We use a Time Capsule for wireless and backups.
I truly admired Steve Jobs. Don’t get me wrong, the guy wasn’t perfect, clearly. He could be rude, stubborn, and probably suffered from a bit of a god-complex. People either loved him or hated him, but even his staunchest rivals and archenemies conceded his genius.
This summer I read a fascinating book about Steve (look at me, all ‘first-name-basis’ and everything) called “The Steve Jobs Way,” by Jay Elliot, former Vice President of Apple during much of Jobs’ tenure. The book’s byline: “The man who transformed the way we connect, consume, and communicate.” People who hate Apple tend to minimize what Apple has accomplished, not realizing you don’t have to love Apple to concede that Jobs was enormously successful in terms of branding, momentum, quality and user-friendliness. The book explores all these frontiers and more, and I loved every page. His courageous commitment to the Apple “religion” was inspiring to me.
Funny thing, though: my most powerful takeaway from the book was front loaded into the prologue, before all the “meaty” stuff the book is really about. Elliot says of Jobs, “His enthusiasm is infectious. He understands the mind-set of the people he wants to create products for because he is one of them. And because he thinks like his future customers, he knows when he has seen the future.”
Remember the famous quote from Wayne Gretzky, the hockey legend who broke records like they really were made of vinyl? Asked to explain the secret to his greatness, he replied, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
For Jobs, though, it wasn’t even about the future; it was about the people he was trying to reach, even if they didn’t understand what they needed. Jobs’ infamous habit of replying to random customer emails underscored this principle. “I want a more complex computer,” someone would write. “No, you don’t,” Jobs would reply, and for millions of people, he was right. He didn’t always give people what they currently wanted, but what they really wanted—or, what they’d want once they’d seen what it could do for them. Jobs is famous for quoting Henry Ford, who said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” People find it difficult to see what can be, he would say, so we have to help them.
This reminds me of my work in the church. Do people really want another program or ministry in the church to take up their time and fill up their daytimers? Do a survey and it may come out with a resounding “YES.” But deep down, the answer is really “NO,” and support for that ministry long term will prove it.
It also reminds me of Jesus. If all he’d done on earth was ask people what they wanted and acted accordingly, he never would have died on the cross for us, never would have said the hard things people needed to hear, never would have gotten around to what really matters—helping us with our sin problem both now and forever.
At the end of the day, I’ll miss Steve. So will Apple, and many others. I hope and pray he got around to dealing with what matters—with Jesus Christ—before he stepped into eternity, where Jesus is all there is to hang on to.