On Wednesday, Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple.
Twitter exploded. The internet bore witness to an outpouring of grief. Anyone unaware of his resignation would have assumed he had died.
He hasn’t. He’s now Apple’s chairman.
And the incredible reaction to the news of his resignation has simply added to the mystique of his leadership.
But what role has language played in Jobs’ leadership of the world’s most valuable technology company?
What kinds of words does the man who has been described as ‘uncompromising’, ‘charismatic’, ‘genius’ and ‘visionary leader’ actually use?
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Revolution and the ‘rule of three’
When you lead a large organisation, it pays to talk as though that organisation has always taken the lead.
Here’s Jobs introducing the original iPhone in his 2007 keynote speech:
“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything… In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class… These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it [the] iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.”
A computer. A music player. A phone.
Omne trium perfectum – ‘everything that comes in threes is perfect’.
And it’s as true of Jobs’ linguistic use of the rule of three as it is of the iPhone itself.
2. Storytelling – when the personal becomes inspirational
Here’s Jobs giving his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005.
He’s talking about dropping out of college in the mid-70s after only 6 months:
“It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”
Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story – it makes it easy for people to identify with you. It also helps build the trust that every great leader needs.
It also injects personality into Apple’s brand – something many businesses could do with more of.
3. Don’t wait for people to tell you what they need
Steve Jobs believes in creating things which nobody knew they needed – and he knows how to communicate this.
Who would have guessed at the beginning of 2010 that the iPad would be so successful? Tablet computers had been around for years but had never really taken off.
Then Apple came along with something lighter, thinner, more portable and with greater functionality – single-handedly creating an entirely new product category and a slew of imitations.
When a reporter once asked what market research went into the iPad, Jobs answered: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”
It’s a sentiment that every copywriter should remember when they want to sell a product or service.
After all, there’s leadership in great sales copy – you’re making your reader feel great about their decision to buy.
Jobs knows that Apple’s customers love to feel great about the products they buy. So as I sit here typing this out on an iMac, occasionally checking my iPhone, let’s finish on a quote from Jobs’ Stanford speech:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”