When Electricity Is Way Cooler Than iPhone

A bet won thanks to Tesla

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Photo by Ryan Riggins

It was the winter of 2007, some friends and I were sitting around a table and drinking chai tea — chitchatting about nothing, just like a Seinfeld episode.

The conversation moved towards visionary geek, Steve Jobs and how ‘cool’ the new product called iPhone was. As one of my friends pulled out his gadget, slowly from his pocket- we all lunged forward, formed a circle and watched him with childlike enthusiasm. He curled his fingers together on the touch screen and then opened them outwards.

Voilà, the words zoomed on the screen. He looked up and gleamed. We listened to his ‘gaga’ monologue that ensued, with rapt attention and it ended with -“What a remarkable user interface! No manual needed, pioneering stuff in the technology space.”

The Friendly Banter and Wager

Then, I chimed in “if you are talking about the user interface, there is a product in the energy space that is even more simple.” Heads turned, attention shifted — a fifty dollar bet was soon on the table. I got up, walked to a nearby light switch, switched the light on and then off. Pointing to the switch, I said, “Here is the simplest of the user interface for a mind bogglingly complicated product called electricity.”

To ensure my fifty dollars, I added — “ alternating current system of generators, motors and transformers, invented by Nikola Tesla, reaches us where we live and when we need it with the simplest of user interfaces — a flick of the switch! Everything behind the scenes is very complicated- it cannot be stored and the electric grid needs to be maintained at a certain frequency at all times.” I then sipped my tea and closed with, “And it was made available many decades before the iPhone was introduced.”

The Real Outcome

Fast forward to 2014, my 2 year old daughter pulls me along to her room. She climbs on the sofa, switches on the light and then asks for the iPad, places it next to her and she effortlessly moves between applications on the iPad. Watching her at work — her finesse, her joy in accomplishing things on her own, the fluidity of her fingers that are reminiscent of a maestro’s assurance — brings a smile to my face. As I absorb the whole experience, I marvel at the contributions of Steve Jobs and Nikola Tesla — Steve’s product that a toddler could master and Nikola’s invention that seamlessly blends in. A wonderful common thread between their core products- the simplicity of human interaction.

Contributions that resonate with me

Granted, both were great visionaries in their own right who are celebrated by fellow geeks for their contributions. Their contributions are many. Nikola Tesla had many inventions, alternating current is the most prolific of them all.

When my older daughter asks about my days before internet, I think about my conversations with my grandmother about her days before electricity. She said the difference was like night and day — both figuratively and literally. The time she needed to spend in the kitchen reduced exponentially with the gadgets — she often showed us her very first blender with the same benevolence a farmer has for his tools.

With regard to Steve, beyond the product innovations, he was a master class communicator. It is said that public speaking is one of the biggest human fears and even in that area — he shed light on how to focus on the essence of public speaking. Carmine Gallo’s book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” is worth a read for dissecting and highlighting the not so obvious nuances in the master class act of presentation by Steve Jobs.

Tributes that register with me

On the day after Steve died, while riding the elevator that morning, I saw the Obamas tribute on the elevator news screen, which I think summed it up best -“Steve was among the greatest of American innovators — brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.”

What about the tribute to Nikola Tesla? What better way to salute the man than a sleek Tesla car on the roads to remind us every day! And now in space. Thank you, Elon Musk and team, for the electric car tribute that is better than words.

The essence

Two men, different eras, one impacted energy space while the other impacted the technology space profoundly. However, digging deeper, the common thread that bonds them to the daily life of the world at large is the simplicity and intuitiveness of the user interfaces for their products- the corner stone of an “insanely great” customer experience. They are implicitly appreciated for keeping complexity behind the scenes. In that sense, they were very successful geeks with enduring legacies.

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Stories to fuel your mind. Theme: life’s hidden treasures in plain sight. Goal: Warm tone, solid content, crisp stories. About me: one google search away.

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