Steve Jobs: A Teacher to Us All

07 Oct 2011

I’ve read dozens of homages to Steve Jobs today. They are all heartfelt and fitting for a great entrepreneur and product visionary - here’s mine.

Running a product business you often hear, “We can’t do that.” What Steve has taught us is not to sacrifice on design or vision - to push the limits of technology - to strive for perfection in the moment. I’m sure he heard “We can’t do that” or “It doesn’t work that way” countess times in his career, but it never stopped him or Apple.

Perfection in the moment is making the best product you can with the technology of the day. The iPhone 4 could not have been built in 2007 - the technology simply didn’t exist for mass market applications. But the original iPhone was the perfection of the technology at that time. I’m sure when the iPhone came out they had dreams of what it could become - someday.

When you ask a team to create something that pushes the limits of current technology you initially get push back. But as they make progress and they see what they are capable of creating, it is like adding fuel to a fire - they ignite with passion and energy.

I’ve seen this at Orbotix. If you look at Sphero today, no engineer would have signed up for the spec of its current performance a year ago. It has never been done before. The chips we are using have never been used for an application like ours, the algorithms are too complex, the system is too unstable... But Ian and Adam knew in their guts that it should work - it would just require a lot of hard work.

And so we asked and pushed our team to make it happen. Slowly, incrementally, we made progress. Many days we cursed the ball - we hated that it didn’t behave. In several critical areas the math became so complex that we scoured the planet looking for that one super expert on a particular subject. Then one day we had a minor breakthrough - and we celebrated. We continued and had other breakthroughs. At some point we stopped pushing and the team began demanding more from themselves.

Sphero is a magical little robot. What is so magical about the technology is that it is completely invisible to the user. But we are not going to stop because we have visions beyond today. I feel like we are getting close to having perfection in the moment.

Steve was a teacher to all of us - he has inspired us to push for perfection in design, function and technology. Without Apple I'm sure we would be a different company - and the world would be less magical.

While we will miss him, we are grateful for his gifts to the world.

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