Steve Jobs and the Future of Creativity

Steve JobsSteve Jobs and the Future of Creativity

Update: On Wednesday, October 5, 2011, Apple’s board released a statement announcing Steve Jobs’ passing. The statement went on to say, “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.” Truer words were never written. Steve, you will be missed. 

Last night brought with it the news that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs would be stepping down from his position as the company’s CEO. Almost instantly, the Internet was ablaze with speculation and questions, the most pressing of which seemed to be whether or not Apple would be able to carry on Jobs’ legacy of creativity. Jobs stepping down is not only a blow to the company, it is a blow to the creative world at large.

Steve Jobs has championed creativity in all aspects of his work, from the design of his Apple products, to the marketing campaigns used to sell them. As a result, Apple has become one of the most valuable companies in the world. They could buy every NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL team in the world, and still have $25 billion left over. 100 shares of Apple on the day Jobs took over as CEO were worth $1,369. Today, those shares are worth $150,590. But more than anything, Apple has developed into a brand that is defined by its innovation.

No better example of this creativity and innovation exists than Apple’s 1984 commercial for the launch of the Macintosh line of personal computers. The advertisement featured a dystopian world that drew on images from George Orwell’s novel 1984 to represent the coming of Apple’s new device. The commercial was composed of shots of a crowd of people, each individual indistinguishable from the rest, being brainwashed by a “Big Brother” type figure on a screen. These shots were intercut with shots of a brightly dressed woman that symbolized the Macintosh computer carrying a sledgehammer and running away from armed guards. It ended with the woman hurling the sledgehammer at the screen in front of the crowd, breaking the screen and its hold on the viewers.

The commercial was deemed a masterpiece when it aired during Super Bowl XVIII. Not only did it establish the Macintosh computer as a computer that was different from the rest, it established Apple as a company that was not afraid to do something different to promote its products. Since this commercial aired, Apple has continued to inspire creative individuals through advertisements. It fact, it has established itself so well as a brand that fosters creativity, merely the thought of an Apple product can inspire someone to be more creative.

A study conducted by Duke University in 2008 found that subjects who were unknowingly exposed to an Apple logo found more creative and unusual uses for a brick they were presented with compared to subjects who were exposed to an IBM logo in a similar fashion. Through the use of marketing that is designed to inspire and cultivate creativity, Apple has become synonymous with the word. Lucky for us, this mantra of creativity manifests itself in other aspects of Jobs’ company as well.

Under the leadership of Jobs, Apple has always been a company of firsts. When Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne founded Apple Computers Inc. and introduced the Apple I computer in 1976, it was one of the first computers designed for personal use. Twelve years later, in 1983, Apple’s LISA computer would be the first personal computer that utilized a graphical user interface. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, the first widely successful digital music player and in 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, the first widely successful tablet device. By pushing the boundaries of creativity, the man behind the Macintosh has forced the world to progress.

While Jobs may best be known for his computers and consumer electronics, his creative touch actually reaches much further.  In 1985, Jobs was asked by the board of directors to resign as the CEO of Apple Computers Inc. Almost immediately after stepping down, Jobs acquired a computer graphics division by the name of Industrial Light and Magic; a name that he quickly changed to Pixar. The small computer graphics company would go on to become one of the most dominant creative animation studios in the world and create some of the most memorable and critically acclaimed animated films of the past two decades. Even though Jobs may not have had a hand in the creation of these films, he was able to recognize the creativity that John Lasseter and his team possessed and cultivate it. In fact, if Steve Jobs’ mission over the past forty years were to be summed up in one phrase, that phrase would be “the cultivation of creativity.” And, so far, he has done a pretty good job at doing just that.

One way Jobs has sought to promote this mission is through the “Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – Today” initiative. Started in 1985, ACOT2 is a research project that seeks to help teaching and learning environments adapt to the 21st century. One of ACOT2’s six design principles of the 21st century high school is to foster a “culture of innovation and creativity,” much like Jobs has done his entire life. We can only hope that the result of such a culture is another inspirational, innovative and creative mind like Steve’s.

The creativity found in all aspects of Jobs’ life has now become the standard to which other innovations are measured. When Pencils.com released the Palomino Blackwing last fall, the Boston Globe’s Alex Beam questioned whether it was “better than an iPad”. While this headline singled out one of Jobs’ most acclaimed inventions, it reads more as a metaphor for an innovative and unique product. As Jobs has famously proclaimed over the years, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Spoken by a man who has helped connect an entire generation.

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