In his seminal 1949 work The Hero With a Thosand Faces, Joseph Campbell observed that all myths, across time and cultures, contain the same theme. It is the the same basic recipe, based on “the hero’s journey”, and the structure repeats itself, in four basic parts: Bliss, Departure, Initiation and Return. Homer’s Odyssey, the story of Buddha, the sagas of Lord Rama and that of the Pandavas, the legend of King Arthur, Robin Hood, right up to Star Wars and Matrix, all follow this model.
And today, I think we can safely add Steve Jobs to that list. I think that probably the reason the world is going through such a convulsion of grief (at least on social media) over Steve Jobs’ demise, is more because of his story than his product (I am sure not all those missing him on Facebook are iPhone users). And it is a story on the above (predictable?) theme. We all love a ‘human’ hero – a hero who faces pain, suffering, defeat, only to rise against adversity and changes his future, and with it, the world. Steve Jobs, thanks to the troubles he’s faced (as much as the creations he leaves behind), is such a hero. (He even said that he’d have “never been successful if I hadn’t been fired by Apple” the first time around.)
In his oft-quoted Stanford speech of 2005, Jobs actually told it like a story. The three stages, the anecdotes, the personal connect – perfect! And then, why not? His life had been a story in that classical mould – starting off as an adopted son of loving working-classs parents, technology ideas from the almost proverbial Bay Area garage, creating a revolutionary product by the time he was 30 (and a $ 2 billion company while at it), losing it all in a board-room coup (something we all love to hate), going out into the wilderness and coming up with other success stories (PIXAR and NeXT), being brought back to the flondering ship on the verge of collapse, and turning it around to make it THE most highly-priced technology company in the world. Add to that, personal pain and tragdey – pancreatic cancer: near-death surgeries, visible weight-loss and rumours of death, and yet a stoic, almost humorous approach to suffering (Who can forget the tongue-in-cheek slide “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”?). That’s a story, no, a legend. That’s what myths are made of. Rama, Achilles, Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Jobs…
Sure, Jobs’ did it through fantastic marketing. From the seminal 1984 Superbowl ad to the annual product launch jamborees, Jobs and Apple kept the ‘wow’ factor alive like no brand has in history. Also, the success and rise have been quick, almost lightening fast, and hence widely reported in the face of a cataclysmic economic meltdown.
There is also the fact of timing – today’s wired world is mundane and boring, full of cubicle-focused code-crunchers who are desperate to see some creative joy. The left-brain might be enough to sustain, but may not satisfy the latent right-brain desires for significance. Jobs was a poster-boy of that cross-over: a geek Leonardo da Vinci, who also made billions! And there again, lies the essence of the story – the return of the prodigal, and the changing world order. As jobs (as in employment) moved to Asia, and robots took over from hands, as unemployment, anger over futile wars and hoplessness rose, Jobs was a beacon of possibility: design excellence that is cutting-edge creativity, married with unheard-of technology. Can’t be done at $15 per hour (take that, India)…Hallelujah!
Today, as obits flow out faster than one can follow, Steve Jobs is no more. I am not an Apple user, and have only seen those so-called wundergadgets from a distance. My appreciation for Jobs’ legacy actually stems from his other magnum opus – Pixar Studios. Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Monsters…the list of masterpieces I have loved, laughed and cried over are long. Not a very gadget person, I have looked at the i-revolution more with bemusement than the frothing-at-the-mouth awestruck joy that I see in many peers.
To me, however, nothing can take away the fact that Jobs was pure genius – whether its the story or the fact. Most people would now know only two names when it comes to the telephone – Graham Bell and Steve Jobs. And when it comes to the story, his is unmatched.
Building a great product is not unheard of. But doing it while consistently appealing to the creative craving that defines our evolution (we are, afterall, the only life-form that can claim to be seriously artistic), and leveraging that creativity to come up with superior products that build on the success story – that’s stuff of legends. The Steve Jobs legacy is strong. He created a business through a lot of sense and pragmatism, shrewdly identifying and creating opportunities and milking them well. Apple is at its zenith today, and iPhone 5s are all set to create new sales records. But it is his story what will endure more, and will continue to sell almost at par with all the iPhones and iPads.
R.I.P. Steve. Let the story run…
Anirban is an entrepreneur based in Bangalore, India, with interests in people development, and marketing. He runs a training company, The Painted Sky, which uses novel art-based techniques in corporate training. He is also a marketing consultant, helping brands develop their stories and identity. An avid reader, a jazz fan, a chef and a father, Anirban follows world matters with a keen eye and deep interest.