Judging by the outpouring of eloquent grief on the passing of Steve Jobs, I’ve concluded if a black turtleneck was a sports jersey, it would need to be retired. (In fact, sales of black turtlenecks are going through the roof.)
We are witnessing a cultural moment celebrating a life well-lived inspired by the death of someone who was NOT a politician, a sports or entertainment icon, or a religious leader.
What makes this testimony so remarkable is the high degree of consensus about what made Jobs’ life admirable.
Steven Paul Job’s life, ideals and accomplishments resonate across the generations. He was born at the height of the Boomer generation in 1955, but in many ways he was the ultimate Millennial, and also the ultimate Gen X’er. His 2005 Stanford commencement speech has over 5 million hits on YouTube so far. Perhaps this says something about generational differences: they may be more on the margins than on the big ideas.
Above all, Job’s occupies a special place in the hearts of Millennials. On The Next Great Generation blog, Millennial, Meghan Ross, writes:
…the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad have granted us accessibility to the world at the touch of our fingers. These products (along with the MacBook and MacBook Pro) not only make an endless amount of tasks easier to accomplish, but they also are present for some of the most significant life events we experience. I had my entire music collection in my pocket the first time I left the country, read my first “real world” job offer email from my iPhone, and completed my final undergraduate projects on my MacBook.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine Millennial life without Apple products, as this infographic demonstrates. Would Gen Y be so “Millennial” without them? Ross goes on say that Job’s greatest contribution, however, was his exemplary life, “his unwavering beliefs and an acknowledgment of unavoidable death that drove him to take chances on life’s uncertainties that come with chasing your dreams.” Similarly, Melanie Shreffler write sin the Business2Community blog, “Although Jobs wasn’t a Millennial, he “embodied the Millennial spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism, following his passions and not worrying about what the outcome would be.”
An entire generation now has a shared idea of what it means to be a leader that has nothing to do with titles held, degrees earned, fashion (turtleneck aside), or social media Klout. Being a leader is about who you are and what you stand for. Jobs inspired us to understand that leadership is about more about great taste, willingness to collaborate and a laid back working style. As Shreffler explains, the Genius of the Genius bar is that it demonstrates, “Anyone can be an expert, even if they’re young and wearing jeans and a t-shirt.”
Above all, Jobs’ enduring contribution will be his demonstration that it is possible to live your values.
The power of the Stanford commencement speech comes from Jobs’ commitment to his sense of self even in the face of devastating loss and death. In the end, Millennial values are not that different from those of other generations. They aspire to be successful, to make a difference in the world, to have functional marriages, and to be good parents.
What will make Millennials unique is — if they can manage it — is to hold on to their sense of self and values even as life presents challenges that have caused other generations to make compromises. This is what makes Jobs so inspiring… and so Millennial.
Footnote: I am writing this on my latest computer, a desktop Macintosh, my first Apple that wasn’t a phone or iPad. Seems fitting…