The first time I focused on Steve Jobs was when I was a young writer at Time in 1981 and read Inc.'s cover story on him. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by the assertion on that cover: "This Man Has Changed Business Forever."

The idea that Steve Jobs was not only a great businessman but also a transformational one was on my mind in 2004, when he first talked to me about writing his biography. I had published a biography of Benjamin Franklin and was working on one of Albert Einstein, and my first reaction was to wonder half-jokingly whether he saw himself as the natural successor in that sequence. But once I thought about it, I realized what an important opportunity I had to get up close to the person who had done more to change business than anyone else in our era.

His searingly intense personality, aesthetic genius, passion for perfection, and ferocious drive revolutionized at least six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. You might even add a seventh: retail stores, which Jobs did not quite revolutionize but did reimagine. Along the way, he created not only transforming products but also, on his second try, a lasting company, endowed with his DNA, that is still filled with creative designers and daredevil engineers who carry his vision forward. It was the American creation myth writ large: He started a company in his parents' garage with a geeky kid from down the street and--after a roller coaster ride and restoration drama--turned it into the most valuable company on earth.

"That's what Jobs infused into the genetic code of Apple, which is still evident today: He believed that beauty mattered."

There are many specific reasons that Inc. turned out to be correct in declaring that he "changed business forever." But I would like to point to a philosophical one that is the most important overarching reason: He connected the humanities to technology. Jobs alluded to that at the very outset, in our first long interview, but it took me a while to understand the notion. "I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics," he said. "Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that's what I wanted to do." After he had dropped out of college, he audited classes in calligraphy, music, physics, and electronics.

At his product launches, Jobs would conclude with a slide, projected onto the screen behind him, of street signs showing the intersection of Liberal Arts and Technology. During his last such appearance, for the iPad 2 in 2011, he stood in front of that image and declared: "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough--that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing." That's what made him the most creative technology innovator of our era, and that's what he infused into the genetic code of Apple, which is still evident today. He believed that beauty mattered.

My new book, which I'd been working on for a few years before Jobs called me, is a narrative about the greatest innovators of the digital age, the ones who "think different," as Jobs would say. Their genius, like that of Jobs, has been creating a human-computer symbiosis--a natural and easy relationship between people and machines. In other words, they've stood at the intersection of the humanities and technology.

Leonardo da Vinci was the exemplar, and his drawing The Vitruvian Man has become the icon, of the creativity that flourishes when the humanities and sciences intersect. In our day and generation, Steve Jobs, and his procession of astonishing products, exemplifies that tradition.

 

 

From the October 2014 issue of Inc. magazine