Here’s to the Crazy Ones

6th Oct, 2011

Today seems like a better day than normal to make a change and start something. I’ve watched Steve Jobs and followed the ascent of Apple with respect and appreciation. Since Jobs’ returned to Apple, the journey has provided us all with perfect examples of product strategy, leadership and design. For anyone interested in these things, Jobs’ genius and Apple’s accomplishments define the way things should be done.

It saddens me to know that this particular era is coming to an end. The “come back” is officially over. The last chapter will be written by Tim Cook and his incredible team during the final transition.

To my own surprise, the loss feels greater than the end of a business story. The passion Steve had for touching lives through new products meant he’d only leave Apple if his health forced him. So we had to expect behind private doors that his resignation as CEO marked a final decline in his health. Knowing his time was passing did nothing to soften the impact of the loss of Steve as a human.

I feel diminished.

I didn’t have a Mac in the ’90s. Being a Unix guy, I longed instead for an all too expensive NeXTstation. But, I immediately loved the Think Different campaign because of the giants featured and for its timeless, human message:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo…

– Apple Inc, 1997

For me, and I expect others, this felt like I was being pulled, compelled to dare. We were often in trouble at school; we focused our energies in things we loved; we ignored things we could avoid; time meant nothing compared to getting it done; almost finished was just as bad as not starting. If you could not keep up, you’d get left behind.

We now know, the Think Different campaign marked the turning point for Apple. Sales of the new iMac on the back of this ad began the revival. But, maybe deliberately, this ad campaign seems as much for the staff at Apple as it was to re-raise the awareness of Apple in the market. It was a call to action for Jon Ive and all the rest that if Apple could re-focus to innovation, become an entire company of crazy ones, they could do great things. And it worked.

Over the next decade, Steve (re?)created a culture where no respect for the status quo was not only desirable, but required. A belief in humans to be their best. A haven for those uncomfortable with compromise.

In an industry stereotyped with pejorative adjectives like “geek” and “nerd”, implicit with a imbalance of machine over man, its with an dose of irony that the Apple’s success is based on two human elements: focus on the user experience and a culture of continual rebellion and perfection.

Steve Jobs was an inspiration for many. Everyone has their own take on what made him insanely great. Steve has thrilled us with beautiful details from typography, to aqua buttons and rubber-band scrolling. These differences don’t speak to anything truly unique.

Misfits and rebellion are one thing. But there was a greater appeal in the Think Different ads: The people featured were giants. We all have our own strengths. When we have the knowledge to critique another’s work, it makes it easier to judge someone as being better than us. But then there are those men and women who stand so tall in their field you have to take note.

I’m no boxer, nor do I have a love for watching it. I do know a little of Ali’s life. But when I watch “When were Kings”, I weep for joy. To see Ali in his prime in that movie is glorious. In every field of human endeavour, the giants have something to teach us about our own lives. Our own paths.

This for me is the true beauty and power of those ads.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford and told three short stories. In this speech, he gives us insight into what drove him. But in the perfect simplistic style of Apple’s products, the takeaway is simple and elegant and fun:

Stay hungry. Stay Foolish. – Steve Jobs, 2005

This is how we can all be giants if we dare. It worked for Steve.

My sympathies to Steve’s family. Best wishes too all the crazy ones at Apple.