Rock’n’Roll innovators – Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

It’s pretty much all been said, but we lost one of our greatest old school innovators this week as Steve Jobs fell prey to cancer.  This resonated especially with me as my brother also succumbed to this most resilient of diseases this year.  In spite of huge leaps forward cures for cancer still elude medical and pharmaceutical innovation.  Having come from the world of scientific innovation myself, I believe that even cancer will be history by the end of the 21st century.  Lou Reed sums up the rollercoaster of emotions that cancer represents in his album ‘Magic and Loss’, which examines the demise of personal friends to the disease:

I was talking to Richard Bandler last night and the conversation reminded me of how Steve Jobs describes death as life’s ultimate change agent, in terms of its ability to make way for the new.  Check his Stanford University talk of 2005 on this point, shortly after he contracted the disease.  It is a breathtaking speech:

Steve Jobs was a remarkable man, so I pondered what he leaves us as a lasting legacy:

Jobs was no friend of market research, preferring intuition as a spur to innovation.  It’s a characteristic he shares with Leo Fender, who was not a great guitar player, but designed intuitively great features into his groundbreaking Fender Stratocaster guitar.  I’ll be telling the Fender Strat story in a future post.  For now, here’s my dead Fender Strat, after its premature cremation by IBM leaders at a business conference some years back.

IBM burnt my guitar

Jobs’ 2nd legacy was his insistence that technology needed to fuse style and substance.  This was modelled down to the last detail in Apple’s products, which made Apple products design icons as well as functionally superior.  People’s love of the Apple brand and design is evident in their personal tributes this week at Apple stores all over the world.  I believe this arises not just out of style for its own sake, but because Jobs fused style with substance.

Jobs’ third legacy is his mantra “stay hungry, stay foolish”.  Comfort does not make for great innovation, nor does taking yourself too seriously.  All too often hunger and playfulness are driven out of corporate life with disastrous consequences for long term innovation.  To read more on the HR issues surrounding innovation check out ‘What’s New Pussycat?”  The credit crunch and the recession have exacerbated blame cultures and disputes over pay.   Steve Jobs’ last reported yearly salary was $1.  Check Dean Becker’s blog out for an excellent personal analysis of the qualities that made Steve Jobs an agile and adaptive learner.

It seems fitting to end this post with a personal consequence of Jobs’ approach to innovation.  Here’s a piece of music I wrote and recorded on my beloved iMac entitled “Mars Warming” from the album “Music from the Basement of Cognition“.  This music was conceived as a coda to an epic film and is filled with joy, sadness and melancholy.  It simply would have not been possible to have recorded this piece of music without Steve Jobs.  May he rest in peace.


7 responses to “Rock’n’Roll innovators – Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

  1. Listening to your wonderful piece, Peter, I can say whole-heartedly that Steve Jobs was an enabler of creativity and communication. Please post more of your own music soon! And now you have to tell the story of the incinerated Stratocaster!


  2. Some Linkedin comments here:

    Ian Kerry • While it’s true to say that many of the products Apple have produced have become winners, the iPhone is overall just another style of mobile phone: a development of a technology and a product that already existed. The same with the iPod: MP3 players existed before Apple’s own version.

    We should bear in mind not to get too carried away with the idea of Jobs as a latter day Thomas Edison: Apple was distinguished for a good few years in the 90’s and early 00’s for producing products that flopped. However, the success of the company came from making products that were sturdy and practical, more so than their rivals. And of course from marketing these things to the hilt.

    Malcolm McKinnon • @Ian… I agree. I might submit the dominant innovation that drove iPod adoption was less in the technology itself and more in the content contract struck with musicians and their representation to allow legal downloading of individual songs. Faced with nothing from Napster, the something from Apple looked pretty good.

    Peter Cook • Excellent points – Apple and Jobs have had their fair amount of failures and timing is everything. There’s more on the importance of failure at

    Thanks for your comments – I will add to the blog.


  3. Peter,

    Sorry to hear about your loss. I know it is an emotionally wrenching experience to deal with cancer specially when you are close to person. I lost my mom to it in 80’s, and saw her struggle through it. She had the spirit to take it head on without complaining. I still create a racket on small things. That’s one thing where it inherited genes haven’t worked.

    Your post is beautiful and so is the music. I loved the beginning piece.



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