Safety Third: A Tribute to Steve Jobs

As a friend of mine who blogs said to me yesterday, “It’s impossible not to jump on the bandwagon.”

You know… the Steve Jobs bandwagon. Five gazillion other people have written something on their Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc about the dude. A million other seemingly normal people have decided they need to start wearing black turtlenecks everywhere. It’s on everyone’s mind, and probably will be until the next exciting thing lights up on their smartphone and makes them forget them what they were thinking about it.

Such is life.

Now, probably so far I sound like a bit of a hater, which, of course I am not (completely, at least.) I think there’s plenty to be criticized about everyone at any given minute of the day, but there are times when it’s a good idea to put your hate aside, withhold comment and write a light-hearted, story-driven tribute in three parts.

1)

We are the kitchen, and am I worried about some out-of-character, fun-loving, free-loving behavior I’ve exhibited this summer, and probably plan to exhibit again.

“Well,” my roommate S tells me. “Don’t worry. After all, safety third.”

“Excuse me? Safety third?”

“Yes,” she explains, in a voice that indicates my ignorance is somewhat egregious.

“When you’re traveling, and you’re making decisions, or doing activities, you always need to ask yourself: 1) Am I having fun? 2) Do I look good? and 3) Am I safe? So, ‘safety third.’ After you do your best to have fun and look good.”

“Looking good – that sounds hard,” I muse. “And the rest sounds dangerous.”

“What’s dangerous? Safety is on the list. It’s third.”

Let me me assure you, it doesn’t take long to love this rule. And I have a feeling I’m not the first uber-genius and tech-savant to realize that.

You know who else realized that? Steve Jobs. Think of your iPhone – and all the dropped calls – and the times it broke – back in the day when the geniuses at the Genius Bar were incompetent and bad at customer service. Think of how your Macbook came out of the box with less memory installed than it needed to function. And think of how you really couldn’t use Microsoft Excel effectively on a Mac – for years.

But – you were having fun, right? And you (or your [insert Apple product here]) looked hot, right? So things didn’t always work perfectly. Newsflash – if it’s fun and hot, nobody cares.

Of course, jokes aside, Apple always worked to resolve problems after products were released, but they were so fun and hot, people were willing to use the products as they were and wait. In other words, safety third.

2)

After three years of locking my bike up, hanging the helmet on the handle bars and saying, “if some asshole wants to steal my crappy bike helmet, they can go ahead,” some asshole actually steals my crappy helmet.

Amazing.

I get home a bit disheartened and wonder out loud, “how am I going to get to work tomorrow?”

“Very, very carefully,” my roommate advises.

When I take off the next morning I am very apprehensive. (And channeling Steve Jobs – I am pretty hungry for breakfast and feel incredibly foolish.)

As I am nearing the office, I notice a very cool looking, legit, hipster bike messenger dude with a hardcore backpack and long, flowing blond surfer curls. And he is wearing a helmet.

“Omigod he’s going to think I’m such an asshole for not wearing a helmet. He probably thinks I’m trying to look cool with my imitation fixed-gear bike, abrasive orange chrome bag and total disregard for safety!”

Then, he passes me and does something strange. He takes his hands off his handle bars and removes his helmet. He’s still biking, but bringing his backpack around his waist so he can put his helmet away. He closes the bag, and keeps going.

“You idiot!” I think. “Put your helmet back on!” He bikes away, and I bike to work and that is all, except for the moral of the story:

If you’re a company and you started out by putting safety first, you cannot try to backtrack and start putting hotness and fun first. Everyone will think you’re an idiot. Because who in their right mind starts by putting safety first and then gives up?

The people who relied on you for safety will be insulted, confused and disappointed. You’ll never be fun and hot enough to compete with the original fun and hot thing, and your company will be on a slow path to ruin. That’s right: The BlackBerry Storm will go down as the worst phone in history.

3)

It is later in the same day, and I still have no bike helmet. Now, it is getting dark, so it has come to my attention that I also have no bike light. I am also biking on a very crowded street with no bike lane. My favorite pair of jeans has just split down the seat of my pants. I’ve shoved my BlackBerry in my sweater pocket and it’s hanging precariously at the edge.

I’m not having fun, I am confident I do not look hot (despite the hole in my pants) and only one thought is repeating itself in my head:

“If I get hit by a truck right now, my new MacBook is not going to survive.”

Since he died, I’ve been trying to intellectualize my response to Jobs’ passing. But the writing on the wall is obvious now: “You value a piece of metal he made more than your own life.”

It’s a not good or a bad thing, but it may mean some require one exception to the rule:

If you’re lucky to enough to land something that is both fun and hot, your number one priority should be keeping it safe.

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