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A Lesson From Steve Jobs' Email

We've all had one of these moments: You get an email and quickly respond without putting much thought into it. Then you end up wishing you'd taken more time.

Rob Enderle

September 20, 2010

3 Min Read

We've all had one of these moments: You get an email and quickly respond without putting much thought into it. Then you end up wishing you'd taken more time.A recent fascinating electronic conversation between Apple's Steve Jobs and a journalism student, and the comments below it, point to a problem with smartphones that many of us likely don't realize -- they provide an opportunity to make some incredibly bone-headed moves and open us to personal attack.

Here's the exchange.

Regardless of whether you think the college student was naïve or entitled (she is a college student, after all) or whether schools should deploy iPads, the CEO of Apple should likely not be seen in this light. In fact, were they to get an email like this, most of the CEOs who I know would likely ask one of their folks to follow up, make sure the student was taken care of, and that someone drove that iPad sale. It's that kind of year. Jobs' image is carefully crafted and tied tightly to the Apple brand; any sense he feels that students or colleges aren't worth his effort could have broad implications on customers who are students or teachers themselves or who are related to them. Can you imagine what would happen if he had a similar conversation with a veteran?

The problem is that even smart people like Jobs don't take the time to think before responding on a smartphone. It is too instant, too immediate, and this suggests it could be very effective as a fishing tool: for example, as a way to get an executive or politician to say something in writing that could do his company or campaign damage, or to simply provide information to someone phishing for it. This tendency to want to multitask and quickly respond to a message of any type has its clear advantages, but we can now offset them with the disadvantage of not thinking through our responses as well as we otherwise might. Granted, when rushed many of us have done the same thing on our PCs, but at least with them you are generally seated and focused on what you are doing and not trying to walk, drive, or even ride a bicycle while communicating. I think Jobs' email should serve as a reminder that any kind of written message serves as a record and needs proper consideration. Messages from external sources like journalism students, messages that hit our buttons and cause us to think in flames, and messages from executives likely should be on the short list of notes we think about before we respond to. And messages asking us for personal information, information about our children, or financial information should trigger this same stop-and-think response. Maybe this Jobs event should remind us all we need to slow down and think a bit more.

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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