Sunday, October 9, 2011

Steve Jobs was the Willy Wonka of technology

      Last year I taught grade 4 and read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my students. In thinking about the legacy of Steve Jobs, I can't help but make the unusual connection between him and Willy Wonka. Wonka was the eccentric and somewhat mysterious genius who transformed the candy world with his magical creations. He refused to do things like others and thought very differently indeed. He had to keep his inventions a safely guarded secret to prevent other companies from copying his ideas. When he did create something new, it was usually wonderful, and people swarmed to stores to buy his latest inventions. Apple has become the real life Wonka company and Jobs was the real life Willy Wonka. His creative genius and vision gave us products which have transformed the way we use and experience technology.

     The main reason, in my opinion, that Steve Jobs  will go down in history as one of the greats is not because Apple was so successful as a company but because he was such as visionary who stuck to his vision regardless of how the company did in the short term.
Unlike many CEO's who think about creating the next big thing which will drive sales in the next quarter, Steve thought far more long term and shaped a whole new way of doing things which evolved over several years. He created and shaped whole new computing markets and many others  copied his ideas with varying success.

     In the 1970's when computers filled whole rooms, Jobs dreamed of bringing the desktop computer to the masses. With the iPod, he not only thought of a great  device for music, but transformed how music is distributed through the development of iTunes. The MacBook proved that a company could create a superior product by being involved in every detail of its creation from design, software, hardware and distribution. The iPad brought about a whole new way of interacting with computing and is transforming industries of all kinds, including education. It is largely because of the iPad that people are now talking about the post-PC era.

     I am sure that his vision will have an enormous impact over the next few years on the publishing industry (which it already is) as well as on video distribution and television (which it already is as well). I have no doubts that Apple has a long term plan for this but is it unclear how successful the execution of these plans will be without Steve Jobs.

     Whether or not we will see another Steve Jobs of the technology world in the near future will depend on whether or not another creative genius with vision will rise through the ranks of a technology company. I have no doubts that our world is full of great minds like Steve Jobs but it is rare that one can stand at the edge of conventional wisdom of how things are done and still gain the momentum that Steve managed to gain in his relatively short life. Hopefully his ideas and view of the world will gain momentum in bringing about innovations. Jobs will be be remembered as a man who created and led companies that made great products. But more importantly, he will be remembered as a leader who had great ideas which changed the world.