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By Om Malik
Like many of my colleagues in Silicon Valley, I was having a fantastic day today. It is crisp in the shade, warm in the sun. The skies are a magical blue with puffy clouds floating like dreams. And when all seemed to be going well, an email in my inbox — without as much as the new message sound — arrived: Letter from Steve Jobs. It was as if the inbox was observing the solemnnity of the occasion. It is an end of an era.
The first thought that ran through my head was about Steve’s health, and I thought to myself that this cannot be good. I don’t care about him being the CEO or head of Apple. What I really do care about is his health. He wouldn’t be making this decision unless things were pretty dire.
It is incredibly hard for me to write right now. To me, like many of you, it is an incredibly emotional moment. I cannot look at Twitter, and through the mist in my eyes, I am having a tough time focusing on the screen of this computer. I cannot hear the sounds of the street or the ring of my phone. The second hand on my watch moves slowly, ever so slowly. I want to wake up and find it was all a nightmare.
And while I wish for him to have time with his family, I am also very selfish. I will miss the thespian who made inanimate objects like a computer become a thing to behold. A few years ago, I compared Steve to Howard Hughes using the line, “Some men dream the future. He built it.”
Steve Jobs, the maverick who has architected one of the greatest comebacks in the history of Silicon Valley, continues to prove that he is a modern-day Howard Hughes. Unpredictable, charming, loving, petulant, and perhaps more than anything deviously mysterious. But more than anything brilliant.
I have watched him from afar. I have learned from his decisions. And yes, there have been the products Apple has built — especially those in the most recent decade. Jobs has had an incredible influence on me.
Jobs (and by extension, Apple) has taught me (and I am sure others) a big lesson: If you want to change something, you have to be patient and take the long view. If Apple and Steve’s incredible comeback teaches us something, it’s that when you are right and the world doesn’t see it that way, you just have to be patient and wait for the world to change its mind.
Today, we are living in a world that’s about taking short-term decisions: CEOs who pray to at the altar of the devil called quarterly earnings, companies that react to rivals, politicians who are only worried about the coming election cycle and leaders who are in for the near-term gain.
And then there are Steve and Apple: a leader and a company not afraid to take the long view, patiently building the way to the future envisioned for the company. Not afraid to invent the future and to be wrong. And almost always willing to do one small thing — cannibalize itself. Under Steve, Apple was happy to see the iPhone kill the iPod and iPad kill the MacBook. He understands that you don’t walk into the future by looking back. If you do, you trip over yourself and break your nose. Just look at Hewlett-Packard, and you know what I am talking about.
As a founder of a company, Steve’s biggest gift to me is not the MacBook or the iPhone. Instead it’s the confidence to disrupt myself. Whitney Johnson, a founding partner at Rose Park Advisors recently wrote:
We typically define disruption as a low-end product or service that eventually upends an industry. But I’ve found that the rules of disruption apply to the individual too. Or as thought leader Jennifer Sertl writes, “innovation ultimately begins on the inside.”
Jobs is a perfect example of that. He could have settled for status quo and gone on as the chief executive. But why wait? After all, he is the man who can see the future better than most of us. And even if it means a full stop to what has been an incredible career.