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Renegade CEO on Steve Jobs - Modern Day Pirate

I am a self-proclaimed Renegade CEO.

An armchair quarterback that offers opinions and ideas. I draw upon my 30 years of experience helping organizations large and small, and the individuals who guide them compete in an increasingly volatile marketplace.

I love powerful insights, big ideas and actionable strategies. In this article, I imagine what Steve Jobs might have created next.

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than join the navy.” (Steve Jobs, 1982)

Steve Jobs was a modern-day pirate whose beautifully designed ships outmanoeuvred his enemy regardless of the odds. With the Mac, he maintained a premium brand and escaped drowning a sea of PC sameness, with the iPod he pillaged Sony Walkman, with iTunes he sunk the music retail industry. The iPhone sailed past the Blackberry and the Apple Stores have lineups while others have a constant promotion. Even the technology powerhouse like Hewlett-Packard flew the white flag when it realized the consumers’ obsession with the iPad.

Jobs wasn’t just a pirate defeating tech giants; on his watch, he traded a handful of films for the largest individual shareholder position at Disney. He acquired Pixar from George Lucas in 1986 for $5 million and 20 years later he sold it to Walt Disney for $7.4 billion. Once again he redefined the category, focusing on consumers’ insatiable appetite for amazing stories. Pixar never compromised on its quest for the perfect tale, using computers rather than hand-painted cells to bring cartoon characters to life. The company’s reward, beyond critical acclaim, was a $602 million average gross, by far the highest of any studio in history. Disney owned distribution rights to the first five films, and Jobs knew that when that contract was about to expire, Disney’s shares would take a hit while Pixar would soar. So he leveraged Pixar’s handful of films against Disney’s studios, theme parks, cruise ships and retail to create a merger to his utmost advantage.

As children, there is a pirate inside most of us. We imagine, create and play without boundaries until the time we are pressed through a mill of conformity and caution where we are encouraged to choose the safer path over the riskier, the safe harbour versus the plank.

“I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.” (Steve Jobs, 2001)

Jobs was adopted by a middle-class family and didn't have a traditional childhood. Like many who are dealt this card he probably felt like he was standing on shifting sand. An outlier, Jobs shunned traditional norms, dropped out of university and travelled to India for spiritual enlightenment or possibly to simply find some certainty in his life. He came back with a shaved head, enraptured by Buddhism and began a phase where he experimented with LSD, which he described as one of the most important things he’d done in his life.

Why Socrates? Socrates encouraged humans to focus on higher goals and on the collective power of their community versus the individual. The irony is Socrates would have been fascinated by most of the inventions, an enabler for what he preached.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (Businessweek, May 1998)

There were dozens of MP3 players on the market and Sony-owned portable music when Jobs unveiled the iPod on Oct. 23, 2001. Focus groups would have demanded the same bells and whistles Apple’s competitors were known for – Dolby sound reduction, enhanced bass.

Jobs couldn’t care less. His focus was on the user interface and making technology transparent. His end game wasn't the divide but what the device enabled - putting “1,000 songs in your pocket.” In 2003, he launched the iTunes Music Store, which ultimately became a springboard for download domination and the recurring revenue model that has helped put almost $100 billion on Apple’s balance sheet.

What would Steve Jobs be working on today? My bet would be the iFridge and its ability to enable you to feed your body and soul with the right nutrition to get more life out of life. To live longer and better. It would track the obvious - calories in and out, provide the obvious - recipes, an RFID scanner for ordering all your groceries and then so much more. It would search out locally grown and organic foods at the best prices, custom design recipes based on input from your doctor and lab tests, reward you for your progress with free downloads, and well just look so good in your kitchen.

In a short time, Steve Jobs left this planet putting a dent in the universe. I can only imagine what he had imagined in his mind to continue to enable the consumer to do more and be more.

We’ll miss his courage to imagine, harness and redefine, to lead the consumer and seize any market he desired. The manner in which he embodied the golden age of capitalism, which was built on innovation vs. imitation, investment vs. cost-cutting, and the needs of the consumer vs. the quarterly balance sheet.

Let’s hope all of this can be downloaded onto the next generation. And one day in the future, some genius will be quoted saying that they would trade all they had….for an afternoon with Steve Jobs.



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