The Visible Man: Apple's Steve Jobs

by Britton Manasco | Nov 26, 2008 | Thought Leadership

The second dimension of thought leadership is visibility. We command a lucrative premium in today's highly contested markets by being highly visible and highly recognizable. 

But one won't be widely viewed as a provider of trustworthy guidance unless one has already been elevated to a certain level of public esteem.

Visibility begets more visibility. When well managed, visibility then strengthens trust and confidence. 

Perhaps one of the most visible CEOs in the current economic era is Steve Jobs. His personal story is so intertwined in the mythology of Apple, the company he founded in the mid-1970s with Steve Wozniak, that he offers a compelling example of this factor's powerful impact.

Jobs has gone from iconoclast to icon. He first challenged the premises of IBM and the computer industry by making the case for a personal machine that would bring computing to the "rest of us."

In 1983, Jobs lured John Sculley away from Pepsi-Cola to serve as Apple's CEO, with a simple question: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water to children, or do you want a chance to change the world?" The following year, his company's unforgettable "1984" Super Bowl commercial promised that the Apple Macintosh would transform the way we think about computing.

The charismatic Jobs had become the visible face of the computer revolution.

However, he wasn't prepared to follow Sculley. Described as an erratic and temperamental manager by many of his colleagues, Jobs was forced out in 1985. From there, he became the figurehead for a new era of computer-generated animation in film as the leader of Pixar. His company's arrangement with Disney enabled it to produce such compelling hits as Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc.

But it was Jobs' return to Apple in 1996 and his subsequent performance that has locked in his iconic status and made him a visible force beyond the company's traditional fans. Steve_jobs_ipod_cover

Indeed, his company's move into consumer electronics with hit products such as the iPod and iPhone have widened its circle of customers and driven its market value to impressive heights.

All the while, Jobs has remained a thought leader in the realm of high tech and a persuasive salesman of the Apple vision. His keynote speeches (colloquially known as "Stevenotes") and performances at MacWorld Expos and Apple's World Wide Developers Conferences have helped to build the cult of personality that surrounds him and the fanatical devotion of customers to the Apple brand.

What's most impressive is the way that Jobs' following among "early adopters" in the high tech world has laid the foundations for him to "cross the chasm," as marketing guru Geoffrey Moore puts it, into the wider world of consumer electronics that appeal to mainstream buyers.

The visibility of Jobs has risen over the years, contributing to the widely recognized and trusted Apple brand. In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Jobs, who dropped out of college to pursue his dream, urged the new graduates to recognize their time to leave a mark is limited.

As he put it, "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other
people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out
your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow
your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want
to become. Everything else is secondary."

Jobs ignored the dogma, elevating himself -- and Apple -- to a position of extraordinary influence.  By raising his own visibility, he helped to make the Apple brand one of the world's most trusted and respected.