At this dark time in the life of man whose dazzling vision has touched and enchanted tens of millions of people across the globe, I'd like to offer a broad perspective on the ways in which that extraordinarily singular CEO, Steve Jobs, has disrupted not only corporate behavior but also the ways in which we as individuals engage with the world.
And let me start with one of the most-recent public comments made by Jobs, a remark that I think captures his audacious confidence and unshakeable belief that Apple must remain iconoclastic not just to be contrarian but because Jobs' deepest conviction was that companies should create and offer things that excite and delight customers, rather than merely make and sell that which is convenient and easy.
Three months ago, Jobs decided to join Apple's earnings call with analysts due to the special occasion of Apple reporting its first $20 billion quarter. In the Q&A session, Jobs was asked about the possibility that a forthcoming wave of tablets with 7-inch screens, as opposed to the iPad's 10-inch screen, would undercut iPad's success by being smaller, lighter, and less-expensive.
Here's the response from Jobs:
"Well, one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference. But it's meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of the present size.
"Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff," Jobs went on. "There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
Only a jackass or a genius could have conceived of such an answer—users need to sand away 75% of their fingertips!—but only a genius could have gone on to argue convincingly that the goal shouldn't be on manufacturing-centric issues such as component costs but rather on the ultimate determinant of excellence: "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
That remark should go up there with Henry Ford's "you can have any color you want as long as it's black" as truly iconic representations of the dominant logic of the time: for Ford, the central issue was mass production and efficiency and cost-control, whereas for Jobs the central issue has been to conceive phenomenal ideas and then iterate backwards to figure out ways to make them come alive at price points customers regard as great values.
So at this point, as Jobs is on medical leave from Apple and it's not unreasonable to conjecture that he might not be able to return, I wanted to share my own subjective list of 10 of Jobs' greatest achievements that will endure across many industries and for many years to come: