Asking whether there will ever be another Steve Jobs seems to me like asking whether there’ll ever be another Muhammad Ali. While there may be little comparison between their respective domains, both unique individuals mastered their chosen pursuits, fought like hell to keep their titles, and “thought different” than everyone around them. Also Jobs, like Ali, didn’t hesitate to speak his mind, as in the clip above, in which he declares Microsoft’s Windows “the worst development environment that’s ever been invented.” It ain’t politic, but it’s maybe… kinda true? I don’t know…
My opinions on the matter aren’t worth much—I wouldn’t know the backend of an operating system from the backend of a tractor-trailer. But Jobs didn’t attain tech guru status just for the sleekness and simplicity of Apple’s designs, but for his keen insights into the refinement of consumer computing technology and his ability to convey them with the unpretentious directness of a black turtleneck and dad jeans. The clips here are of a young-ish Jobs teaching at MIT circa 1992, when he was 37 and running his company NeXT, founded in 1985 after he was originally forced out of Apple.
He stayed plenty busy during his Apple interregnum, helping to launch a little computer graphics division that would become Pixar and developing the technology and designs that revolutionized Apple when it bought NeXT in 1997—and when Jobs retook his empire through proprietary ruthlessness.
Here, five years away from that fateful event, we see him explaining his philosophy of innovation to students who may or may not have foreseen the breakthroughs to come. Just above, he describes how “you can use the concept of technology of windows opening, and then eventually closing,” referring not, this time, to Bill Gates’ hated OS.
Rather, Jobs talks of a situation in which “enough technology, usually from fairly diverse places, comes together, and makes something that’s a quantum leap forward possible.” One of Jobs’ many leaps forward in consumer technology might reasonably be summed up in one word: portability, as in, the ability to carry an entire library of music or a cell phone/music player/personal computer in your pocket. Just above, he discusses “the enemy of portability,” namely such market demands as processing speed, storage space, and high-speed networking. And in the clip below, he talks about a subject near and dear to every tech executive’s heart—poaching talent from competitors such as, well, Microsoft.
The uniform of turtleneck tucked into jeans, the deliberate pacing back and forth, the expressive hand gestures and genuine comfort and confidence in front of a crowd: all of the mannerisms we remember from those hotly anticipated launch events are there in a shaggier form.
Through the various applications of his technological acumen, Jobs remained always himself. The “next Steve Jobs,” or rather those aspiring to his level of relevance should take note—he did it by insisting on doing it his way.