Return of Sir Steve: 6 ways Steve Jobs taught me to be human

I’m a couple of days late on this one, but I thought I’d end the week with a tribute to the greatest brand-builder of our time: Steve Jobs.

Much has been said of Steve Job’s abilities as a technology prophet, a savvy marketer, a brilliant executive, and now as a two-time survivor of serious medical conditions.

But today, I’m going to focus on the lessons I’ve personally and professionally learned from Steve Jobs as a human. As flawed and as fussy, and occasionally as weird as any human can be, he stands out as a great humanizer of everything he touches.


On Wednesday, at the small Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, the fact that Steve Jobs appeared at all was a surprise:

Many attendees expected Apple to announce it would finally sell the Beatles catalog — also released Wednesday ?on CD — through its iTunes Music Store. Some even hoped to see Ringo or Sir Paul in the flesh.

Instead, they got Sir Steve.

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He looked very gaunt, and his style – which has never been flashy or over-the-top – was particularly understated on that day. But he started on a very human note: by thanking the unnamed 20-something who had donated his liver to save his life, and urged everyone to fill out their donor cards (so if you’re reading this: fill one out!).

But this event got me thinking about the very human lessons I’ve learned from watching Steve Jobs over the years.

1. Human passion has a place in business


I had the privilege of being in the room at MacWorld 1998 when Steve Jobs, still fresh from his return as Interim CEO (and wearing a jacket!), unveiled that first iMac – in a game-changing Bondi Blue coloured case. But as impressive as that little miracle of intelligent industrial design was, the real miracle in the room was Jobs himself.

In that room, he was a rock star, a messiah, and a mega-guru all rolled into one. And if anyone had a great excuse to swagger and fist-pump the air that day, it was Jobs. And indeed, in his earlier years, he had projected much more arrogance as you can see in this great documentary.

But by 1998 his style had become humbler, and much more, well, normal than most spokespeople from the Anthony Robbins, Richard Branson, or Zig Ziglar schools. And his authentic, but not over-pumped enthusiasm is part of the magic of all his legendary keynotes since.

And on that day I saw it at work: he introduced a new high tech product and made a bunch of computer geeks cry.

2. Humans need other humans (and say thank you)

In Wednesday’s speech, after thanking the liver donor,  he then thanked the Apple community, the Apple employees, and only then did he get into the tech goodies he came to promote.

But even then, his tone of voice is always giving credit to those around him. Check out the full keynote on YouTube at the bottom of this post. He can say things like “iTunes is the number one music retailer in the world” (at around 5:50) in a way that doesn’t say “in your face”. When Jobs says it, it sounds like he’s saying “thank you”.

3. Human needs come first

The Apple design ethos has created a series of simple-but-beautiful tools like the Macintosh, the iMac series, iPod, iPhone, and the list goes on.

Apple products
Timeline of Apple Products – from Wikipedia

And it all starts with studying people and how they operate. And this has been fostered and taken to another level by the Apple Industrial Design Group which Jobs has championed.

4. Human stories are incredibly powerful


Jobs’ name is so closely associated with Apple, that it’s easy to forget that he also built Pixar Animation Studios into the brilliant storytelling (and brand equity) powerhouse it has become byallowing great creative people to tap into human emotions by telling great stories.

It was an incredible testament to the culture Jobs helped build that Disney has largely maintained a “hands-off” approach to the Pixar brand and corporate culture of innovation.

5. A great company is built by great humans

When I visited the Apple campus in Cupertino to deliver a presentation in the late 90’s, the first thing that struck me was that the people there didn’t brag about stock options or fooseball tables like other “hip” companies I was visiting at the time.

Apple employees talked about two things: 1) the spirit of creativity that permeated campus life there (this was in the heyday of “Think Different”), and 2) great food – they were eager to take visitors to experience the cafeteria with its five-star menu of healthy food options – free for employees. Apple brought great people together around the most human of communal experiences: the shared meal.

6. Human creativity trumps business logic

This is where I come back to “Think Different”. Steve Jobs has created a multibillion dollar empire by elevating creativity, human-machine interface design, and human emotion to a position of primacy in one of the world’s most powerful and fastest-growing brands.

What are you doing to make your brand more human today?

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