Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"What Matters Most": A Lesson From Steve Jobs in 1993

I save everything. In the dark days before Evernote existed, when my media relations career was very young, I used to save physical clips of newspaper articles that intrigued me.

Most were snarky quotes. For example, from a Wall Street Journal article in December 1991, just after President (H.W.) Bush fired his chief of staff, John Sununu, I clipped a cruel joke White House staffers used to describe how unpopular he had become:

Q: If you had John Sununu, Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi in a room... and a gun with two bullets, what would you do?
A: Shoot Sununu twice.

I kept these clips in a file folder tabbed “Unusual.” I came across that folder earlier today while cleaning my office. My department is soon moving to a new location on the Verizon campus – and yes, one with a new “open office” layout.

That’s where I saw the “hedcut” portrait of Steve Jobs in a Page 1 story from the May 25, 1993, edition of the Journal.

It was an ugly story. It detailed his struggles – eight years removed from his first stint at Apple -- as the 38-year-old head of a computer company, Next Inc. By May 1993, Next had stopped manufacturing computers to concentrate on developing software, the company’s president and CFO had quit, and a consortium of other computer makers had just formed a software alliance that excluded Next.

The story was a litany of Next’s failures. One of the subheads proclaimed, “Flawed Vision.” It was, for all intents and purposes, the Journal's corporate obituary of one Steven P. Jobs.
What floored me – and why I saved the article – were the final sentences of the long story:

Yet Mr. Jobs talks of NextStep as “the operating system of the 90s,” partly because “everyone wants an alternative to Microsoft.” And he continues to contend that [Bill] Gates can’t match his own record of innovation.
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.”

Everything… everything… Jobs had tried at Next had turned out wrong. It was the worst case scenario. Yet, in summation of it all, he comes up with this wonderful quote that succinctly describes who his competition is, what his strengths are and what his purpose is.

And he continued to believe in this purpose, despite all odds, because it’s a higher purpose:

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.”

That’s the true epitaph of Steven P. Jobs. How perfect, and how refreshing and unusual it is to read again in 2014.

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