Steve Jobs and I had exactly this in common – we grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and belonged to The Generation That Simply Will Not Shut Up And Step Aside. Like me – I’m a year younger than Jobs – he was too young to be part of the goings on around the Haight or to attend shows at the Family Dog or Fillmore, but the influence of the ’60s was unavoidable.
I can offer no personal testimonial for Jobs, as I didn’t know the man. But I can speak to his generation.
Page through Jobs’ history and it’s clear that he strongly felt the influence of his time. Like his pop-idols, he grew out his hair, dropped acid, travelled to India and worked with the naive confidence – so common in those days – that anything was possible. However, unlike nearly everyone who followed this well-worn path, he didn’t crash and burn or descend into cynicism when life inevitably crushed the fragile fantasies that made up much of ’60s culture.
Rather than dismiss the experiences of his youth, he synthesised and prioritised them. It was cool to be an artist. It was cool to be a non-conformist. It was cool to believe that nothing was impossible. Similarly, it was uncool to be a Suit. It was uncool to sell or be plastic. It was uncool to be afraid.
It was uncool to be uncool.
Jobs brought this experience and attitude to Apple. It was omnipresent in Apple’s early days – the 1984 and Lemmings commercials, the pirate flag that floated over Apple’s campus, the ‘How many times have you dropped acid?’ interview questions, and just about everything about the Mac’s design and interface.
It was no less a part of Apple when Steve Jobs returned in the ’90s – the Think Different campaign featuring images of some of Jobs’ heroes, the musical performances that accompanied many Apple events, the iTunes Store, Apple’s retail stores. The design of every scrap of anything produced by Apple.
This is not the way it’s supposed to work. Companies were meant to be faceless. Monolithic. Uncaring. Bean-counter laden. There’s a formula. And successful companies follow that formula.
Except when, like Jobs and Apple, they break the mold and tap into something positive. Successful companies have a personality. Successful companies produce products informed by art. Successful companies don’t rip off their customers with shoddy goods.
Successful companies are cool.
In this cynical age it’s fashionable to roll your eyes at the excessive flakiness of the ’60s. And deserved though it often is, it was a time that spawned some fierce notions. It took a just-as-fierce individual to turn those notions into something workable. Something that made sense.
Something like Apple.