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Think Different. Thanks Steve.

One summer about six years ago I had the privilege of attending a week-long AIGA program at the Harvard Business School titled Business Perspectives for Designers. It was a great experience—a week of business school with 50 other designers reviewing classic business case studies in the traditional Harvard way. The program continues but has moved to Yale in recent years. If you’re a designer who is seriously interested in business and can possibly pull together the cash, I highly recommend it.One of the case studies we were assigned was Apple Computers, and during the review the professor asked how many of us thought Apple would still be around in 10 years.

This was 2005. Apple stock was trading at about $35 a share. Its most recent product success was a strangely shaped desktop model available in tangerine and teal. Their laptops were incredibly overpriced, we were told. The iPod was just beginning to go mainstream and iTunes was still competing against “free.” The iPhone was just a gleam in Jobs’ eye. The iPad? All we knew was the Newton had been a colossal failure.

But this was an audience of 50 designers. Those of us who were old enough had purchased an SE. We loved the 1984 commercial. And we had been wearing black long before Steve Jobs adopted our look. Every hand was raised. Quickly. Confidently. No hesitation.

The HBS professor, who resembled Bill Gates younger, geekier brother, chuckled. Actually, I think it might be more accurate to say he giggled. Clearly he was amused at this congregation of misfits and their silliness. “I have to tell you” he confessed, “I teach this case study quite often and I always ask this question. Never do I get more than one of two people to raise their hand. I really can’t imagine Apple will be around in ten years.”

I suspect he doesn’t ask that question anymore.

Thank you, Steve. Thank you for reminding us that wealth can be created by creating value, not simply capturing and pocketing the value others have created while injuring or killing the very ecosystem that lead to its creation.

Thank you, Steve, for showing that CEOs don’t have to play the ‘next quarter/uncertainty’ Wall Street game. That building a sustainable business demands you take a longer perspective than next quarter’s bonus and stock options.

Thank you, Steve, for proving, once and for all, that a CEO who has the courage to commit—nay, insist—on employing design as strategy can not only succeed, but kick ass.

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