(Slightly modified version of the post on Emergency Management)
The media and Internet are filled with accolades and comments about the passing of Steve Jobs. Few would note his passing in reference to his influence in emergency management. After all, his focus was never on how today’s response professionals do their jobs. Yet, I would like to suggest that there may be no one that has altered crisis communication more than that one man. The only thing to rival his impact would be the Internet itself and it is more difficult there to focus on an individual.
Steve Jobs was first and foremost a culture maker. We live in a far different world today than when he co-founded Apple Computer in 1976. Certainly, there are a great many factors that have come together to make the culture we now exist in, but few had as much impact on it as he did. His uniqueness in my mind lay in his ability to bring together things that were both the height of coolness with great practicality. Almost everyone of his major creations knocked it out of the park in coolness, in visual appeal, in their focus on enabling others to make cool and beautiful creations–but they also knocked it out of the park in power and capability. That combination is what made Apple’s products world beaters. Sure, there was the anti-cool crowd who believed that anything cool couldn’t be that practical or effective. But, Apple’s market share and market cap are proving all the time and in today’s world, coolness and practicality are increasingly essential.
As a culture maker, we have to recognize the expectations of the audiences and stakeholders we deal with in emergency and crisis communication. These include expectations about visual graphics, videos, clean design, simplified information presentations, and–being cool. Yes, there is a difference between the PC/Microsoft culture and cultural expectations and the world envisioned and presented by Steve Jobs and Apple. Microsoft’s continuing and increasingly effective emulation of Apple coolness makes it clear that the Apple culture values pervade. And that means a lot, especially for communicators.
But, as important as Jobs’ impact on culture is, his technology innovation has really changed our world. As my friend Bill Boyd notes with the title of his blog, it’s not our emergency any more. That is a mindshift that has yet to occur to most in emergency and crisis management. We think we own it, control it, run it, and that the results depend entirely on us. Wrong. Those eyewitnesses, those impacted citizens, those customers who participate around the world via the Internet and social media, it is increasingly their crisis. The running of such events is not so much a command and control thing anymore, as much as we talk about and work toward unity of command. Crisis management as we have so clearly seen in multiple events is now a crowd event. Professional responders are collaborators whether they understand that and recognize it or not. Those who will be most effective, in my opinion, are those who embrace this sea change, and learn to work with the crowd in a strong but collaborative manner.
Jobs had more to do with that change than anyone. Like millions of others I found out about his death on my iphone. If you don’t use an iphone, the smart phone you do use, regardless of brand, was heavily, heavily influenced by the innovations introduced by the iphone. I write this on my Macbook Pro and read The Economist on my ipad. Yes, I am an Apple junkie like so many others. But you don’t have to be to be using devices created by Apple, because like the smartphone, almost any digital communication device is a follower of Apple products.
I heard Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ co-founder of Apple, talking about his old partner on CNN last night. He said that above all Jobs saw the computer as a communication device. That was his true genius I think. When Apple started IBM ruled the computer world and Microsoft was soon to emerge to empower the masses. But IBM was about number crunching and Microsoft was about enabling business people to use computer power. From the first device, Apple was about making computer technology very simple, very warm and fuzzy and mostly about how people communicate with each other. Communication since then has changed dramatically, including emergency communication. No one has done more to change that than the man we honor today.