Walter Isaacson’s “enthralling” (The New Yorker) worldwide bestselling biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs—the inspiration for the movie Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels, directed by Danny Boyle with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin.
Steve Jobs is known for his effective speeches and presentations in narrative form, but twice in his career he leveraged the ceremony as a unique communication tool to get his point across. According to Nancy Duarte, communication expert and CEO of Duarte, Inc., the ceremony is so deeply embedded in our culture that we often forget it’s actually a unique medium of communication. Utilizing ceremony to communicate isn’t only effective, it’s fun and often provides a deeper cultural connection than a speech.
Ceremonies are a lesser known and lesser utilized communication device in organizations today. So back as far as you can study human behavior, there has been ceremonies in some way. And what we did was we looked at the rights of passage. Even religions have some sort of rite of passage ceremony. What happens is you could be single one moment. You go through a ten minute marriage ceremony and suddenly you’re married. So this moment, this ceremony, transforms you. I am no longer this, I am now that. And when you graduate you go through a graduation ceremony, you know. And there’s these moments – a bar mitzvah or a quinceanera where it’s like, “I was once a young person and now I’m an adult.” The only difference is like this small ceremony happened to show transformation. But what that ceremony does is says I am no longer this and I am now that. Especially when an organization is leading really big change they need these moments where they pause and say we’re not that anymore and now we are now this.
One of the great examples from the book that I love is we covered when Steve Jobs was leading the transition from Mac OS9 to Mac OS10. He had just come back to Apple and that was what they needed. That’s why the bought NeXT, his company, was to have the NeXT operating system in place. And the developers were so skeptical. He even did a talk called Apples Hierarchy of Skepticism because everyone was so skeptical that they could actually do it. He had so much skepticism. Then he started to get momentum and there was this moment where he had this new dream where he really wanted everybody connected to a digital hub and he was getting frustrated with the last stragglers. All these stragglers hadn’t made the decision to come on. So there was an opening scene at WWDC, the big developers conference, where he actually had a coffin under the stage. This coffin rises up from the stage, smoke billows out, stained glass slide up there. He walks out with an oversized box of Mac OS9 and a red rose. He puts the box in the coffin, shuts the lid, puts a rose on top and he eulogized the death of Mac OS9. It’s not a speech. It’s not a story. It’s a ceremony.
He never talked about the transition from Mac OS9 to Mac OS10 ever again. He was telling the developers it’s done, move on. Or it’s just done. And it was a really important ending so that they would all understand that, “You know what? I need to begin again.” And that’s what a ceremony does. There was another kind of ceremonial thing he did because the developers were so frustrated. They didn’t believe that Apple was going to stick with one single software strategy because they’d been through a decade of confusion and fits and starts and multiple tries at an operating system. So the WWDC before the one he did the actual funeral at, the mock funeral, he had actually done a vow. And he pulled out an oversized piece of parchment paper out and he made a public vow to the developer community that they were going to stick with a single software strategy. So it was very dramatic and he unfurled this piece of parchment paper and made a vow. And a vow is like a wedding vow, right. It’s a covenant and a promise and that’s a ceremony. It’s not a speech, it’s not a story. It’s a ceremony. So it was about endings and beginnings and commitments and that’s what ceremonies do.