The force that drove Steve Jobs helped all of us to achieve

Steve Jobs has many skills – enough to revolutionise two industries – but his real strength has always been insisting on making things as good as they can be.

The Buddhists believe that we all live an infinite number of lifetimes, which is a lovely belief, especially if you're extremely rich and powerful during those lifetimes.

The other big tenet of Buddhism is that you've got to rise above the destructive emotions of fear and desire, but since fear and desire pretty much fuel the entire entertainment industry, it's the infinite lifetime angle that attracts me to Buddhism.

This elastic idea about lives and second chances, though, is something everyone in Hollywood can relate to. In many ways, reincarnation is not such a difficult concept. A career in Hollywood is almost exactly like the Buddhist life-cycle: sometimes you're a Tibetan prince, sometimes you're a sad little insect, but mostly you're somewhere in the middle.

Either way, you're on the move. You're either heading to the mountaintop or slipping to the dung-heap. The wheel keeps turning.

Steve Jobs, the mastermind impresario of Apple, has had more turns on the wheel in one lifetime than even the most enlightened Lama. For as long as I can remember - and up until this afternoon - Steve Jobs has been a force, and a presence, in my life. And my career.

He and his partner, Steve Wozniak, ignited the personal computer industry with the introduction of the Apple II in 1977. I remember that computer well. Back then, my family lived in the San Francisco Bay area, and my father worked in the technology industry. A friend of his worked at Apple, and one day he called us up and said, "Hey, meet me in Cupertino. I have an amazing thing to give you." My brother and I drove out on a rainy day after school, and our friend had a package for us: an Apple II prototype.

It didn't do much, but I had taken a couple of computer programming classes, and in a few hours I wrote a version of the then-popular video game, Pong - if you're under 40 years old, you probably don't remember this, but Pong was a primitive (now laughably so) computer game that simulated, in the most basic way, a game of table tennis - and so my brother and I happily played homemade Pong for months, until I figured out the five or six other ways you could use a personal computer back in 1977.

Not much later, in college, Steve Jobs reappeared in my life with something called the Macintosh computer, which allowed me to print out essays and assignments so neatly it was almost impossible to detect the utter lack of originality or insight in the work.

In his third incarnation in my life, though, Steve Jobs made the biggest impact. His other company, Pixar - and how many people can say that they've revolutionised one industry, as Jobs did with personal computers, and then, as a side project, they've revolutionised another one, as Jobs did with animated motion pictures? - released the staggeringly brilliant Toy Story, which managed to be both a funny and believable fantasia on the life of a child's toy, as well as a moving and meaningful meditation on what it means to grow up.

I have an old friend and colleague who has worked with Pixar since the beginning, and I asked him once to tell me what the secret was, what made Pixar such a successful studio. He thought for a moment, then said: "At Pixar, they're only concerned with one thing: Is this the most original way to tell the story? Is it ... the best?"

I nodded, as if I understood this kind of drive.

"They get that from Steve," my friend added, unnecessarily. "That's Steve's thing. That's his constant question: can't this be better?"

But, honestly, Jobs' legacy will be as a kind of uncompromising corporate tyrant. He never wanted to release products into the market that weren't the best, weren't amazing, weren't, in his words, "insanely great." He was tough on employees. He was a ferocious competitor. He was a classic American entrepreneur: self-made, uncompromising, a little nutty. But that's probably what it takes to change the world.

It took a rare form of pancreatic cancer to force Jobs to step away from the companies he built and loved. It's clear he doesn't have too many turns on the wheel left.

His legacy, though, won't be a phone or a touch pad, or a super slick laptop. For me, and for others, his legacy will be his constant question: is this product the best it can be? If so, then ship it. If not, go back and rethink.

Not a bad business model for all of us.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

Published: August 26, 2011 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one