A Case Study in Communications Featuring Steve Jobs

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The operating systems of the first personal computers could only display lines of bright text on dark screen backgrounds. So, when Steve Jobs saw a demonstration at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center of a computer mouse visually interacting with files on a desktop, he launched Apple Computer Inc. to bring that dream to consumers. Macintosh’s revolutionary graphical user interface stunned the world, and Apple gobbled up market share.

However, in the years between Jobs’s ouster in 1986 and his return in 1996, Apple had failed to modernize its operating system to keep up with competitors like Microsoft. Valuable developers suffered from each of Apple’s failed attempts at OS updates, which cost them time and money. They became skeptical about continuing to develop on Apple’s platform.

Apple stock value was falling and the company was losing money. When Apple board member Gil Amelio stepped in as CEO to turn Apple around, one of the first things he did was concede defeat and kill the only remaining OS project. The next thing he did was to acquire NeXT Computer, and Steve Jobs along with it.

A Dream Is Declared

Eighteen days after the acquisition of NeXT, Amelio and Jobs made their first public appearance together. A lot was riding on this moment. Many developers were excited to see Jobs return, but still had questions and doubts about the company’s strategy for the OS.

Amelio improvised his speech and spoke for three hours instead of the allotted hour. Jobs, on the other hand, delivered a thirteen-and-a-half- minute talk in which he laid out his plan for Apple and the NeXT OS.

Jobs knew if developers didn’t begin writing software for the OS, Apple wouldn’t succeed. He spoke with laser focus directly to them, as if they were the only ones in the room. Jobs used the word “developer” twenty-five times in his short speech; in contrast, Amelio said the word only a few times in the three hours he had the stage.

Thanks to Jobs’ commitment to winning over developers, many began to develop for the Macintosh. Jobs achieved major wins, including convincing Microsoft to commit to developing for the Macintosh platform.

Jobs Demystifies a Threat

Yet, Jobs knew that Apple hadn’t taken NeXT’s OS solution far enough. Jobs’ goal was to convince developers to commit to a new Mac OS X, the biggest leap in an OS since the Mac was first introduced in 1984.

It was an uphill climb for years. Jobs tried tactics as dramatic as staging a fireside chat with developers, complete with a video of a crackling campfire and reading a vow to Mac OS X off an oversized scroll of parchment. But skeptical developers still struggled to believe Apple could ever truly focus on one strategy, given its rocky history.

Move On Through Mourning

Finally, Jobs staged a mock funeral for Mac OS 9. A coffin was unveiled on the stage, and an image of a stained glass window was displayed on the screen behind it, while mournful music played. The audience gasped. Next, Jobs solemnly placed an oversized product box labeled “Mac OS 9” into the coffin. Some in the audience applauded; others laughed awkwardly. Then, he gave a eulogy:

“Mac OS 9 was a friend to us all. He worked tirelessly on our behalf, always hosting our applications, never refusing a command, always at our beck and call, except occasionally when he forgot who he was and needed to be restarted. Mac OS 9 came into this world in October of 1998 for a suggested retail price of ninety-nine dollars and was perhaps the best Internet OS of his generation.”

He used clever humor to give the occasion some levity, as eulogists often do to relieve tension at funerals:

“We are here today to mourn the passing of Mac OS 9. He’s now in that great bit bucket in the sky, no doubt looking down upon us with that same smile he displayed every time he booted. Mac OS 9 is survived by his next generation, Mac OS X, and thousands of applications, most of them legitimate.”

At the end, he closed the lid, placed a red rose on top, and said:

“Please join me in a moment of silence as we remember our old friend—Mac OS 9.”

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor blasted through the speakers. The audience responded with muffled cries and sniffles in jest to honor the ceremony.

Leaving no ambiguity about his message, Jobs finished by saying:

“Mac OS 9 isn’t dead for our customers yet, but it’s dead for [developers].…Today we say farewell to OS 9 for all future development, and we focus our energies on developing for Mac OS X.”

Through this ceremony, Apple decisively stated that developing for the Mac OS 9 was over. The faux funeral was a bold and creative way to tell the last straggling developers they had to move on.

Begin Again

Getting developers to migrate en masse from the classic Macintosh operating system to Mac OS X was a five-year trek. When Jobs re-emerged to lead Apple, the developers had had no clear path for almost a decade and had a right to be skeptical. Thanks to Jobs’ leadership and direct communication, the developers went through the herculean effort of migrating. Jobs himself recognized that this was the fastest OS adoption in history, a feat that enabled a new, decade-long era of innovation at Apple.

This piece has been adapted and excerpted from Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols by Nancy Duarte & Patti Sanchez, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Duarte Press, LLC, 2016.