A giant has fallen.
Within moments, the passing of Steve Jobs reverberated around a world that he has done as much if not more than any other person to shape. And the fact we knew this day was coming sooner rather than later does not soften the blow.
There are any number of ways you could gauge the impact of his life. You could measure the wealth he generated for thousands of shareholders, its flirtation with being the most valuable company in the world, its bulging profits or the thousands of jobs he created.
There are endless anecdotes you could tell to capture his genius and leadership. Stories abound about his attention to detail, his rock-star keynote speeches.
But perhaps the best tribute to his life came in the outpouring of grief and gratitude being expressed both on and offline.
So few of us truly knew him personally. And yet millions of us felt his passing so deeply.
How could the death of a distant figure, a businessman no less, touch so many so profoundly? There is perhaps no other titan of industry whose passing would be met with anything close to the instantaneous outpouring of emotion elicited by Jobs’ death.
The answer, of course, lay in the things he either created, or fostered the creation of, through the company he built and then later resurrected. From the start, he had the remarkable insight that he should be building products for real people, not engineers or investors or himself.
That sense of humanity set Apple(AAPL) apart in its early days, when the original Macs became a sensation. And he restored that sense of purpose when he returned from the wilderness in the mid-1990s. The clamshell powerbooks, then the iPod, the iPhone, and at last, the iPad, brought instant delight and surprise the very first moments you touched them.
“It just works,” he repeated, like a mantra, in his final years.
And so they did. And when people used them, they elicited a passion and excitement that is exceedingly rare. People didn’t just like Apple products; they loved them. And in holding those moments of wonder in our hands, we could imagine that we had a direct connection, an invisible relationship to the man in Cupertino who might well be thousands of miles away.
He knew us and understood us, it seems, better than we understood ourselves. There may be no better indicator of his grasp of people than the runaway success of his last great product, the iPad. Skeptics could see no reason people would want or need one. Jobs knew better. He oversaw the creation of something graceful and delightful and stunningly simple.
It has rocked the computing industry, just as Jobs had previously upended the music industry with the iPod and iTunes. We all experienced the vicarious thrill of success and revolution. And we marveled at his genius.
Yes, he was human and he had his flaws, both personally and professionally. But he showed us how to learn from our shortcomings, and to become better at the home and at the office.
In the end, he leaves as a giant of Silicon Valley. Not because he was the best engineer or the richest CEO.
No, it his humanity, and his understanding of ours, that will be his ultimate legacy.
It’s why the world was a better place for Steve Jobs having been in it.