ROAD WARRIOR: Remembering Steve Jobs

Vol. 28 No. 8

By

Jeffrey Allen is the principal of Graves & Allen, a small firm in Oakland, California, that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. He also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He is Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and serves on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal and as a liaison to the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Services. Jeffrey Allen regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for attorneys and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He is an associate professor at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. Jeffrey Allen blogs on technology at www.jallenlawtekblog.com.

 

I had planned to write on a different topic this month, but sometimes fate intervenes and dictates a change in plans. Instead of my planned topic, I will dedicate this column to a man who made a major contribution to the world of technology, to our lifestyle, and to those of us who proudly bear the title of “Road Warrior.” Of course, I speak of Steve Jobs, the genius behind the phenomenal growth of Apple, Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.), built on the back of the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and a variety of Mac computers (not all of which have an “i” in front of their name). For those who did not know it, the “i” in front of many Apple products represents the Internet.

Steve Jobs never practiced law. He never worked in a law office. He did, however, hire a large number of attorneys to work in his company’s legal department as well as outside counsel to his corporations. I am dedicating this article to Steve Jobs, who died several weeks ago after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, not because he hired a lot of attorneys, not because he generated a lot of business for attorneys, but rather because he made a tremendous contribution to the practice of law through his efforts to develop the personal computer and other technological wonders. To butcher a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I have come to praise Jobs, not merely to bury him. I have come to praise him in recognition of the contribution his work has made to the practice of law in general and to the quality of the life and practice of mobile lawyers in particular.

Those who know the game of soccer will tell you that Pelé was perhaps the greatest player to set foot on a soccer field. Pelé could play anywhere on the field and, in fact, rumor has it that he also had pretty fair goalkeeping skills. Soccer has become known as the “beautiful game.” Pelé’s skills represent soccer at its most beautiful. Pelé’s ability to control the ball and push it into the net does not represent his true claim to superstardom, however. Perhaps Pelé’s greatest skill was the fact that he made those around him better players. He made them look even better than they were, in many cases, by his ability to deliver a ball to them in position for them to do something significant with it.

I do not have to stretch very far to identify Steve Jobs as the Pelé of modern technology. He brought individual genius to the party, but the greatest part of that genius was the ability to make those around him look better and become better than they were. For Pelé, the end result was scoring a goal, winning a game, and ultimately, the World Cup. For Steve Jobs, the end result was achieving a goal, offering the world a product that it desperately wanted, even if most of us who would ultimately buy the product never even thought about getting anything like it before Apple built it and put it on the market. Ultimately, for Jobs, the goal was changing the world. Jobs recognized this in himself. He once said, “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” (allaboutstevejobs.com)

Jobs was a true innovator. He changed the world of technology by making it more user friendly. He changed the world we live in by building products that caught the fancy of millions. Jobs grew into an icon for innovative technology. He brought charisma and presence to his presentations and evolved into a highly successful speaker. He gave us many insightful quotations in his presentations; one of my personal favorites sets out a fact of his life and the reason for many of his achievements: “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 25, 1998)

Apple and Steve Jobs showed us product after product that we had no idea we wanted, until we saw it. The iPod proved revolutionary and blew virtually every other MP3 player off the map. No other telephone manufacturer has built a phone that can compete with the iPhone. Has any of us ever seen people lined up for blocks and blocks to get the newest model of any phone offered by any vendor other than Apple and its iPhone? Jobs and Apple showed us what we wanted and we jumped on the bandwagon (or into the line) to get one.

Jobs recognized the elegance and the appeal of simplicity in design. In discussing his designs, he said, “That’s been one of my mantras—focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” (BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998)

I had the privilege of attending several of Steve Jobs’ product introductions. Among his many talents, Jobs was a consummate showman. Dressed in his traditional black shirt and jeans, he presented Apple’s newest offerings. His presentations and the features of the products he hawked tantalized everyone. People would leave the presentation ready to go out and buy the products that Jobs had introduced and prepared to write articles singing the praises of the newest creation of Apple’s technology elves.

Jobs developed the reputation of a perfectionist. He focused on quality: “Quality is more important than quantity. . . . [A] home run, it’s a lot better than two doubles.” (BusinessWeek, June 6, 2005) He brought style and fashion to the design of technology. People used to refer to computers as “boxes.” I don’t know anyone who refers to the Apple/Jobs-designed products that way. Computers used to be something you stuck in a back room and worked on out of everyone’s sight. Apple computers became a work of art to display prominently.

Jobs created a special work environment at Apple. Casual in some respects, formal in others, but designed to foster creativity and ingenuity. I read an article in the local newspaper about Jobs this morning. That article, published by the Bay Area News Group on October 8, 2011, quoted Jerry Manock, a former Apple designer who worked with Jobs on building the original Macintosh computer, as describing Jobs’ style this way: “I don’t recall Steve ever taking pencil to paper and telling us ‘Do it like this.’ Instead, he would encourage us to try different things, different aesthetic treatments to achieve the goal he had in the back of his mind. He’d say, ‘What are ten different ways to treat the bottom curve on this product? Come back and show me them tomorrow.’”

Unfortunately, Steve Jobs will have no more tomorrows. The company he created will live on and, I hope, continue to provide products of the same quality that Jobs both instigated and required. Whether Apple without Jobs will continue to have the ability to capture the public’s fancy remains for the future to reveal. Unquestionably, Tim Cook, Jobs’ chosen successor, has very large soccer boots to fill. Jobs’ departure from Apple and from life has left a large hole where a giant of a man once stood. Steve Jobs was a unique individual. A nerd with so much ability, so much genius, and so much charisma that he made it cool to be a nerd.

Jobs knew he had cancer and that it would ultimately take his life. He did not let that stop him from pushing ahead with new ideas and improved technologies. If anything, his deteriorating health inspired him to even greater achievements—products that create a fitting monument to a giant of technology. We can learn some lessons from Jobs’ perspective, a perspective he discussed in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. In that address, his comments gave us significant insights into the man as well as a better understanding of what made him an icon. In Jobs’ own words:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

. . .

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

No one can question that Steve Jobs’ departure from Apple, Inc., will serve as an agent for change. The direction of that change remains for the future to show. Remembering that change does not always have positive results, I can only hope that Steve Jobs left enough of himself behind that Apple will continue to thrive and to innovate. He left a culture behind at Apple that may well continue to provide us with the technological wonders that have so tantalized the world. Perhaps, in time, we will learn that Jobs also left a few last product ideas behind as well.

Before his cancer created health issues for him, Steve Jobs addressed the issue of life and death, commenting that: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. . . . Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . that’s what matters.” (Wall Street Journal, May 25, 1993)

Whether Jobs had more money at the time of his death than those already in the cemetery may prove of interest to some, although clearly not to Jobs. And while he leaves behind a company that has more available cash than many countries, nobody can question that during the time he lived, Jobs orchestrated many wonderful things. Steve Jobs, rest in peace; we will miss you.

 

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