Before Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs passed away yesterday, he gave us all a few unconventional gifts: a public battle with cancer that drove awareness of the health risks we all face, a fearless sense of innovation to inspire all who would take notice, and a rare appreciation for death itself. And while an uncommon outpouring of remembrance has already begun, I hope you will indulge me as I add one more column to the pile, as Jobs was the kind of rare individual whose vision and legacy were the kind that just about anybody would do well to reflect upon.
You don’t have to be an Apple cultist to appreciate Job’s achievements. (Although I might as well admit right now that I am an Apple loyalist of the first order. I think in my house there is an item from pretty much every product line Apple currently has. It has been that way since the beginning.) But Jobs’ work founding Apple, his ignominious departure from what he created, his time in the professional wilderness (when he founded Pixar, among other things), and his more-than-triumphant return are hallmarks of the kind of career very few will ever achieve. But that is not why he is great; they are just details, really.
What made him great was the fact that he created the kind of legacy that transcends death itself. His body is gone, but his spirit lives on in the lives of so many others. It is something we should all aspire to. Some achieve it more than others, and some do so with considerably less effort than others. But to leave a legacy, to leave ripples in the world behind you…that is the best thing we can do with our mortality. Jobs knew it. And he acted accordingly. I can think of no better way to live one’s life, really.
I am remembering Jobs here because the biggest lessons I take away from his achievements are things that I think translate directly to the life and health industry. The first and foremost among them is innovation. Jobs was, indeed, a visionary. He often got a lot of stick from my technophile friends who liked to point out that Jobs wasn’t a computer genius who invented things, he was just the fellow who got everybody else to buy into them. Perhaps. But history is replete with brilliant innovations that went nowhere and did nothing because people couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Jobs understood needs and what must be done to fill them. He understood what we needed that did not yet exist, and he had the courage to build those things in an industry and in a society where innovation is appreciated, but only to a point. And he kept doing it and kept doing it and kept doing it. Along the way, he delivered not just compelling products, and not just technologies that as a child I thought would only ever remain in the realm of science fiction, but he delivered things that shaped how people live their lives. Things that raised expectations of what people could actually do with each other. Things that were much bigger than a computer, or a laptop, or a music player or a phone.
Few industries ever reach the level of innovation that we see in Silicon Valley, even if they try to tell themselves otherwise. And to be fair, some industries do just fine and make huge contributions to humanity without a heck of a lot of change going on. (Evolution is not always necessary to be successful; just ask any shark.) But having said that, the insurance industry, which touts its own innovation every time a new product is rolled out, could still take a page from Jobs’ playbook. I remember some years ago as I pored through ISO’s various filings, how clear it was that the insurance industry, on both the P&C side and the L&H side, was afraid to innovate. New products were rarely that; they were very fine tweaks on already tried-and-true things, and only once they proved somewhat successful did the rest of the industry follow suit with very similar “innovations” that collectively showed that, alas, the industry really doesn’t like to innovate at all. That would be okay if the world’s insurance needs were being met. But anybody who follows life insurance numbers, to cite just one example, knows that they are not.
So far, the industry’s answer to low individual life numbers has been that the consumer needs to be better educated; if people only knew what life insurance could do for them, then they would surely buy it. I agree. But the other side of that, the one being ignored, is that nobody is developing that breakthrough life product that really changes people’s expectations on how their lives can be. Nobody has really tried to produce something really extraordinary on the life side to make people want to understand. There has not yet been a moment like Apple’s famous SuperBowl commercial in 1984 that not only announced the first Macintosh, but it put the world on notice that what it could expect was about to change.