Wow what a week it has been. The marketing world lost two great innovators this week and probably countless others with less universal name recognition. This week we lost the amazing Steve Jobs and we also lost the amazing Arthur C. Nielsen Jr. Mr. Nielsen’s passing at the far more acceptable age of 92 was sad, but at 92 seemed ok with most of us. Steve Jobs’ passing at the comparably young age of 56 felt unjust when he seemed to have so many more innovative ideas to come and as a result we felt ripped off by time.
So what do Arthur and Steve have in common and why is this post about both of them? Well they both drove innovation that has forever changed the world and they touched your life whether you knew them or not. And as a result, we have a lot to learn from their legacies.
Being a true data geek, I admit that the Nielsen Company and in particular Arthur C. Nielsen Jr. along with his father Arthur Nielsen Sr. forever changed market research and how we view, measure and plan media consumption. The founders of the famous Nielsen Ratings, Arthur Jr. also pioneered the TV rating systems and other digital media measurement that most of the world’s companies use every day to plan their media buys. The Nielsens turned measuring consumer behavior into a repeatable and scalable science but even more importantly from a marketing perspective, they made this service an integral part of both media providers’ and media buyers’ business models. The analysis and sale of trends in consumer behavior was the cornerstone of the father-son Nielsen team legacy and it is brilliant in its simplicity and longevity. Countless other data analysis and research companies now do similar work in a variety of fields and they have the Nielsens to thank for showing that it is both possible and valuable. Arthur C. Nielsen Jr. pioneered the concept of a data-product company that would enable countless other companies to grow to a scale never before possible, simply because they now had the information to do so. His legacy forever changed what each of us sees on TV, hears on the radio and reads in various publications whether online or off. So whether you know his name or not, he has in fact shaped your life.
Steve Jobs, having been born and lived his life in the age of TV and new media, is far more widely known. Steve was an artist at the core. An artist who could envision new products and new experiences that had the amazing combination of elegant simplicity of design combined with powerful emotional connection. Just think about how many people you know who own an iPod, iPhone, or Mac and how much they truly love these products. Think about how many movies from Pixar you have seen and the enduring characters they brought to life. He believed both in his dreams and the seemingly crazy dreams of others. In case you missed it, the Pixar home page also paid tribute to Steve Jobs. While the Apple home page is in the majority of the press, you can’t help but be touched by the heartfelt tribute from John Lasseter and Ed Catmull.
Steve Jobs innate ability to “hear the space between the words” and envision what could be rather than simply evolve what already was is a lesson for all of us. Listen… envision… think different… never give up on your dreams. Simple concepts yet, very difficult to live each day.
Those of you who know me well are probably smiling at my combination of tributes to these two great men. Having done Nielsen rating work and forecasting years ago at NBC and now using Nielsen data as a cornerstone of the digital strategy for Microsoft, Arthur Nielsen Jr. has been part of my career from the very beginning. Nielsen products appeal to the data geek in me and have helped me design great business strategies that have made billions for the companies I’ve worked for. Similarly, Steve Jobs has been an influence since my college days when the original Macintosh first became pervasive on college campuses. Watching Steve Jobs innovate in totally new ways across the tech and entertainment worlds has been an inspiration. I cannot help but admire the elegantly simple yet amazingly emotionally powerful products he brought to life. Having been both a competitor and customer of the products Steve Jobs’ companies delivered, I have enormous respect for his vision and dedication to customer experience.
So often a time of loss is the only time we permit ourselves to pause and reflect. Reflecting on the contributions of Arthur Nielsen Jr. and Steve Jobs is both fitting and educational. Their approach to business includes countless lessons that surely will fill countless books before long. While I never met either of these men in person, I would like to say thank you to both of them.
Thank you for not giving up when giving up seemed like the best option. Thank you for seeing beyond today and “hearing the space between the words”. Thank you for making amazing products that have enabled me to have a fantastically fun and profitable career. Thank you for making me laugh and at times cry. And lastly, thank you for changing the world and I hope the rest of us can keep your learnings going and create innovation for the next generation as well.
I prefer to think of their passings as an amazing gift of learning versus a loss. And I think they would both like that idea as well. Rest in peace to them both.