Scott Anderson

Friday Roundup – 10/07/11 The Next Steve Jobs …

An abbreviated Friday roundup this week, as yours truly is catching up following the three-day Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs Conference 2011. But I’ll have much more on the high points from ANDE early next week.

As the plane landed upon my return from the conference, I fired up my iPhone and the first thing I saw was an Associated Press news alert: “Apple Announces Steve Jobs Has Died.” Almost immediately I flashed back the fourth grade, when I first plopped down behind an Apple IIe to plug away at multiplication tables and electronic spelling tests. I’ve owned or worked on practically every product Apple has produced since then, though I’m usually a late adopter because I still need to keep a roof over my head.

The next day I was chatting with an IT professional about Jobs’ impact versus other inventors. He astutely pointed out that in the last century, three figures above all others have transformed millions of lives and society by converting utterly costly and mystifying technology into affordable and usable products for the masses. 1) Henry Ford, who took away the monopoly of the railroads and effectively made personal travel possible. 2) Samuel Colt, the industrialist credited with doing the same for the revolver. And 3) Jobs, who shattered the once-established view that computers would never be personal.

Of course, Jobs was a single-minded, ruthless, and I’m sure, difficult taskmaster. Apple is a single-minded corporation with profit motivations and shareholders to please. I don’t want to idealize either, but there’s something intangibly sad about the passing of a person who connected human-machine in a way that seemed to preserve the best of both.

Who would be the next innovator to bring the power once held up on high to the people? It turns out I already had my answer. At the ANDE Conference two days before Jobs passed, The Economist’s Matthew Bishop asked Paul Polak if he had any heroes.

“The person I see as a hero is Steve Jobs,” said Polak, the author of Out of Poverty, and founder of IDE and D-REV. “I think we need four Apple Computers (companies) in the marketplace for $2 a day customers, we need that level of innovation, we need that level of marketing.”

(The video and post can be found here. The video clip I’m referring to is at minute 52:30).

He’s right. The next frontier is about generating the power, technology and products once afforded to a select few, to the poor. Whether it will be a radical innovation or chain of innovations in education, agriculture, health care, energy or some combination therein, that change our lives forever, of course no one can say. (This week India released a $35 tablet for the poor, after all). But we can safely say those heroes are out there. (Maybe they’ve already been featured on the pages of NextBillion). And we can safely predict that we will be astounded by what they come up with.

Of course, Jobs said it better than me:

“We make tools for people. Tools to create, tools to communicate. The age we’re living in, these tools surprise you…. That’s why I love what we do. Because we make these tools, and we’re constantly surprised with what people do with them.” – D5 Conference: All Things Digital, 2007. (Source: CNET)

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