Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

I spent much of yesterday in between meetings reading all of the heartfelt reflections from people across the web about how Steve Jobs touched their lives. It has been an amazing tribute. As Annie Lowery of Slate tweeted yesterday morning, “Cannot remember such public mourning for a business leader, ever.” I’d like to add my gratitude and reflections to this outpouring. 

One very concrete way I’m grateful is for all the tools Steve and his team created. Like a lot of people, I can mark the significant milestones in my education and career by the Apple products that were my trusted partner along the way.   

I grew up doing my homework on an Apple IIe. I spent countless hours trying to learn how to write book reports and papers, pretending to be an architect with the built-in drawing program and generally getting lost inside the world of the computer. When I went off to college it was with a trusty Mac Color Classic. I spent more time looking through its 10” screen than the windows in my dorm room. In grad school, I traded that in for an original Bondi Blue iMac (the salesman at BestBuy spent about an hour trying to talk me out of the purchase). Three years later, I installed OS X Public Beta in the first week it was out. Microsoft Office stopped working, so I ended up writing my entire dissertation in TextEdit.  At ConnCAN I was the guy who insisted on a MacBook in a sea of Dells (I later made up for this by making MacBook Airs the standard issue laptop at 50CAN). I remember waiting in a long line on June 29, 2007 in the Milford Mall for the first iPhone. I can’t imagine having launched or run 50CAN without it. My kids have grown up watching Pixar films on AppleTV and I suspect my iPad will have the same impact on them that my parents’ IIe had on me. 

But more important than what he created is the way he created it and the example he set. He raised the bar in every field he worked in and it was impossible to not be inspired to try and do the same.  

One of the things I liked most about Jobs was the way he set a ridiculously ambitious goal off in the distance somewhere and didn’t let the inevitable fear of failure stand in the way of his relentless pursuit of that goal. One of his most memorable quotes is, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” 

Launching 50CAN proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be (my wife Kathleen likes to joke that only people who dramatically underestimate how hard things are start organizations). I knew in my bones that 50CAN was a great idea but every month there was another obstacle that appeared in the path of realizing this dream. I kept driving forward until about 16 months into the process I found myself only a few weeks away from our formal spinoff of 50CAN from its incubation period within ConnCAN without enough money to meet our first payroll. My chief of staff Adena Silberstein told me later that whenever anyone on our team expressed concerns she would say, “Marc has a wife, three kids and a mortgage, if he is willing to take this leap of faith we should too.” 

In the hectic first weeks of 50CAN, I came across a story about Steve Jobs as a young manager taking his entire team, who had just begun work on what would become the Macintosh, on a field trip to a Louis Tiffany exhibition in San Francisco. When people asked what glass lamps had to do with computers, he told them that they were striving for that level of perfection and lasting influence in their work. To achieve it, he said, they needed to see first hand what excellence looks like. 

One of our first staff-wide projects was inspired by that story. We decided that to accomplish our mission we needed to surround ourselves with examples of excellence in the advocacy world. We spent weeks brainstorming and debating advocacy heroes as a staff. The result is the “Professors” section of 50CAN University and the “advocates gallery” in the entrance of our NYC HQ. I like to think it’s our version of the first advertising campaign Jobs’ created when he returned to Apple: the Crazy Ones. (50CAN University is itself inspired by the in-house training programs Jobs’ created: Pixar University and Apple University.)

One of the most inspiring examples Jobs set was that if you were going to do great things you had to dream a long-term dream. Even with the amazing talent he brought together under one roof at Apple and the pressure to stay ahead of the competition, the best things Apple created were the product of years of work behind the scenes and then years more after launch refining what they created. As John Gruber puts it, “That’s how Apple rolls.”

I like to think of the six years we spent at ConnCAN working on getting our advocacy model right in one state as six years of R&D. As much as I would have liked to have sped it up, that’s how long it took to create the 1.0 version of our model. Now, we have set a goal that every year we will build upon that model, creating new versions that leave behind what doesn’t work and refine and grow what does. I can’t help thinking about iPods and iPhones when I try to visualize what we are creating together. 

It has been an amazing opportunity to make use of the product of Steve Jobs’ work and to try and learn from the example he set. As Matt Drance put it yesterday, “Edison. Ford. Disney. Jobs. An era has ended, and we now sit to reflect on our good fortune for having lived in a time when a true giant walked the Earth.”

My overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude. 

Thank you, Steve. 


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