It was 1996. Eleven years earlier, Steve Jobs was ousted from his job at Apple. The investors believed that Jobs had outlived his usefulness at Apple and replaced him with a numbers man. A very good numbers man. John Sculley, hired by Mr. Jobs, orchestrated his removal from Apple. For a while, Apple thrived. Not too long after the coup, however, Apple started to lose its way. The Macintonsh went through various product updates, but it was losing market share to the IBM PC and its clones. What was magical became mundane, as Microsoft introduced iteration after iteration of Windows, each version closing the gap between the Macintosh and the PC clones. Windows, the upstart product from Microsoft, was at its peak – Windows 95 reigned supreme in the computing world. The Macintosh, the first successful personal computing product that utilized a graphical user interface on top of its operating system, was losing its innovative edge. And market share. A succession of products from Apple, while technologically competent, failed to capture the imagination (and wallets) of the American consumer. The company developed cheaper products that offered fewer and fewer features that differentiated them from even cheaper products from the myriad of manufacturers that sold IBM PC clones running the Windows operating environment.
Gil Amelio was brought in to save Apple. He saw the need to update the item that made the Mac unique in the first place – its operating system. After some exploratory talks with several companies, he decided that Apple’s best way forward was to buy a company called NeXT and use the operating system it developed, NeXTstep. It bought the company, it got its operating system. It also got something else. Steve Jobs. Jobs started NeXT after he was ousted from Apple. Jobs had said that he learned a lot from his failed first stint at Apple. He used the time away from Apple to hone his skills as a leader, as a marketer, as a salesman, as a head of a company. He didn’t let failure stop him. He adapted. He bought Pixar.
In February 1996, Apple was in trouble. The acquisition of NeXT was still months from completion. Investors were restless. It was becoming an afterthought. It was a body without a soul. A year later, Apple had Steve Jobs back. A man that was mercurial. A man that had flaws. A man who had vision. A man who believed in his vision. In early 1996, the world was not expecting a second Renaissance. The headlines proclaimed the death knell of a great American company. Looking back, the headlines were probably right. And yet, Guy Amelio was about to make a mistake (as far as his future employment status was concerned) that caused, as they say, “a great disturbance in the force.” Guy Amelio wanted one thing. A new operating system for the Mac. He got what he wanted. Apple ended up gaining engineering knowledge and knowledgeable engineers. And it got one other thing. Steve Jobs. The rest, as they say, is history.
What can we learn from this? We all fail. Many times. As a species, we are all prone to failure. What separates us from other animals on this planet is that we get up and try again. Failure is the catalyst for learning. For improvement. For developing a vision that is all our own. We can enjoy the accomplishments and work of others. And learn from others. In the end, it is the development of our own personal vision that will make what we do interesting and meaningful. We may not be as groundbreaking as a Steve Jobs. We may not have his impact in the world that we live in. As long as we develop our own sense of self, our own vision, through failures and successes, we can make our own impact in the world we call home. Think different. That was a slogan that was bandied about decades ago. Let these two words serve as an inspiration in the things that we do. In our art. In our photography. In our lives.
We are a part of a collective, yes. Let us not forget, however, that our greatest contribution to the world will not be borne of our need to do the same things that other people do, like the lemmings in that first Macintosh commercial. We are one community of different individuals. Be your own original you. Think different.