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COMMENTARY: Steve Jobs’ Genius Made a World of Difference

Steve Jobs changed the world in a way that few have. He was a combination of Albert Einstein, P.T. Barnum and Billy Graham — an inventor whose genius was putting on a long-running show with evangelical fervor such that he changed the world forever.

I’m not sure that there is a contemporary analogy to the import of this man who has incontrovertibly altered life as we know it.

Because of Jobs:

A “mouse” is not a rodent.

Phones are smart.

Computers are portable.

Record albums are iTunes.

Cartoons are Pixar’s.

That is just a partial list. Jobs was an “intentionalist.” He intended to change things.

Waves of Change

A lot has been written about that. What I prefer to focus on is what he didn’t intend to do, but was nevertheless the result of his works.

Jobs changed the shape of our existence. Although, he obviously didn’t accomplish this on his own, the unintentional result of his existence is that the way we shop, work and live has changed.

By foisting technology on us, he has redefined bricks and mortar.

By making us mobile he impacted where and how we work. The location of the office, the very definition of what is an office is (or what is work) and the amount of office space needed (measured by employee per square foot) has been altered by Jobs’ inventions. Companies are now infinitely more virtual; they lease less space and not necessarily in the customary places. The commercial-office-space market has been profoundly altered.

By providing an easier shopping trip — along with Amazon and others — the number of transactions that formerly were exclusively made in retail stores is rapidly diminishing as Internet transactions increase. That has changed the economics of retailing, the composition of shopping center tenants and the sheer demand for those bricks and mortar centers.

The Apple Store changed retailing. Not only is it in the top stratosphere of retail store volume per square foot, but the Apple stores have redefined retailing through the army of truly knowledgeable employees to creating a place for products that need to be touched and seen not just purchased on the Internet. This was the lead-in for companies such as the Gap, Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma to completely redefine their business and marketing plans. Need examples? I-Tunes destroyed the bricks and mortar record industry and contributed to the demise of Blockbuster video.

Jobs’ products changed the home — where we can live. With the advances in technology products and the Internet, we no longer need to be physically connected to a specific region for work. This opens up new urban configurations.

The business of real estate has changed. How we get our information, the value of that information, and how we do business has changed.

Industrial Revolutions

The nature of industry has been reshaped. The dependence of manufacturers on human and natural resources or large metropolitan markets has given way to a sort of “footlooseness” for manufacturing — industry can locate anywhere.

Jobs’ innovations brought revolutionary change. He changed lifestyles. He changed cities, altering the use of land and the real estate market.

Steve Jobs didn’t do it alone. But he was the quarterback, the key player.

My profound sadness and thoughts on the passing of Mr. Jobs is not just a nostalgic reminiscence of what he accomplished. It is more a reflection about what he might have accomplished had he been able to pursue his passions for two or three decades more.

Steve Jobs passing so early in life leaves us only with imaginings of what he might have achieved — imaginings stirred by a genius who changed the world.

Gary H. London is president of The London Group Realty Advisors, which provides real estate consulting and economic analysis. Check him out on the Web at londongroup.com.

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