A few months ago, I wrote a blog about Steve Jobs upon his decision to step down from his position at Apple. Not long after that, he passed away. Recently, I read the fantastic biography on his life by Walter Isaacson. It was one of the quickest 900+ page books I’d ever read and I highly recommend it. With that on my mind, I felt it good to rewrite the blog a bit and update it after his passing So here are some of my thoughts. I think there’s a lot to be learned from his life, no matter what field of endeavor we pursue.
In the fall of 2011, the news came from Apple which most of us knew we’d hear sooner rather than later. Steve Jobs resigned his position at the company he started. Over the last few years, many of us watched with concern and sadness as Jobs’ physical condition deteriorated. We knew of his tremendous drive and passion for his work and that if he ever stepped down, it would only be because he was very ill. That proved to be more true than any outsider (and many insiders) knew. And as Isaacson revealed, Jobs dealt for a long time with pain very few could handle during his last year on the job.
It’s no stretch to say that Jobs’ vision and creativity has impacted all of us to one degree or another. It’s likely that a majority of you are reading this on some device created under his watchful eye. Even those using Windows or an Android phone are using technologies clearly traceable to Apple’s innovation. And beyond that, who doesn’t have at least an iPod or iTouch? Job’s influence in our world is all around us and his vision clearly set a standard for how things should work.
I remember when I bought my first Mac. It’s still in my studio, now sitting silent on top of my rack of gear. It’s a Mac SE, with a 20 MB hard drive and 4 MB of RAM. I had Speed Doubler installed so it runs at what was then a screaming 8Mhz. It’s a 1984 product which cost $2,000 (Funny thing about that...That price point is still the cost of a decent desktop after all these years). It still works and had zero problems over the years. And like all Macs, Y2K came and went without any need for patches to make it cross the millennium boundary.
So what’s to be said for the end of the era of the Silicon Valley Pirates? There are probably some still in trenches who began back with Jobs and Gates, but these days, Gates is a figurehead, and has been for a long time. Jobs, however, was the last active leader of that group. His passing marked the end of the era of the creators of personal computing. Jobs and others like him were Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers.” They had the right skills, were born at the right time, and put in the ten-thousand hours required for world-class proficiency. His retirement closes the book on one of the most significant eras of human invention. The world has forever changed due to their ingenuity and drive.
By now, there are numerous articles and blogs written about Steve Jobs by folks much more connected and reputable than I. I’m just a knob jockey who’s never purchased anything but Apple products. So what’s to be said that hasn’t already been written? I may echo others' writings, but here’s what comes to mind.
When I think of Steve Jobs, the first thing that comes to mind is his passion. You could see it every year at the Mac Expo when he spoke of the innovations Apple was going to release. No other CEO has ever commanded such anticipation and spoken to a live and web audience of such number every year. More than once, I’d be in the studio and someone would ask, “Hey, did you see the Apple webcast?” It was that significant. But as good as the new products were, we didn’t watch just for information. We watched to be inspired by Jobs himself. Yet not only did I feel passion when Jobs spoke, I felt it when I used Apple’s products. And that’s something truly remarkable. To be able to create a product which causes an emotional response by the user is nothing short of amazing. I recall the first time someone showed me an iPod. There was no need to demonstrate how it worked. It was as plain as day. After a few seconds of fiddling with it, I was breathless with the realization of what I had in my hand. It was complex, sophisticated, yet agonizingly simple to operate.
Wired writer Steven Levy was the first to show one to Bill Gates at a dinner after the iPod’s unveiling—which sort of says it all.
I brought along my new iPod. At the end of the meal, just as the other guests at the table were pushing away their chairs, I pulled out the iPod and put it in front of Gates.
"Have you seen this yet?" I asked.
Gates went into a zone that recalls those science fiction films where a space alien, confronted with a novel object, creates some sort of force tunnel between him and the object, allowing him to suck directly into his brain all possible information about it. Gates' fingers, racing at Nascar speed, played over the scroll wheel and pushed every button combination, while his eyes stared fixedly at the screen. I could almost hear the giant sucking sound. Finally, after he had absorbed every nuance of the device, he handed it back to me.
"It looks like a great product," he said.
Then he paused a second. Something didn't compute.
"It's only for Macintosh?" he asked.
Yes, it was. (Then.)
The iPod was a paradigm shift in handheld digital products. The Mac OS was the same. There was a brilliant clarity about how it worked, and a kind of sex appeal about it. Sure, Windows OS worked...at least sometimes (I’m still baffled at how Vista left Redmond for release.) But somehow Apple continued to make product after product that worked with great efficiency and beauty.
The other thing which occurs to me with Steve Jobs is the personal power of a human being. Of course, Jobs had his flaws. His rants and tyrannical behavior are legendary (Again, read the book!). Perhaps such things were necessary for his work, perhaps not. Yet one cannot deny the very large mark he left on the world.
In 2005, Jobs gave the commencement speech at Standford University. At just under fifteen minutes long, it’s one of the most profound speeches you’ll ever hear.
In it, Jobs tells three stories from his life. Three simple stories, all related to what he called “Connecting the dots.” In this brilliant speech, which he wrote himself (He tried to get a famous Presidential speechwriter to write it for him, but when the writer’s commitments were too great, as was typical, Jobs just did it himself), Jobs discussed how events in life which might seem unrelated today often have great meaning later. He began with his experience at Reed College, his creation of Apple and his getting fired, then rehired. And finally, his experience with cancer.
I could hardly do justice to Jobs’ speech with some expository ramblings. Do yourself a favor and listen to it yourself. It’s perhaps the finest commencement address ever given. But I will include a few quotes from the speech in the hope that it will provoke you to take time to hear it.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.....You have to trust in something....Because believing that that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart...even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference.”
LOVE AND LOSS
“I didn’t see it then. But it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced with the lightness of being a beginner again...less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life.”
“You’ve got to find what you love....Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied...is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
When he was seventeen, Jobs read a quote which said, 'If you live each day as if it was your last, one day you'll most certainly be right.' Jobs said, “And for the next 33 years, I’ve looked in the mirror and asked,'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I'm about to do today?'And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Jobs always felt he would die young. Perhaps that was a part of his unshakable drive. As he gave that speech in 2005, he thought his bout with his illness was over. So, of course, those words carry even more weight today.
As I said before, I’d be a fool to summarize Jobs’ speech. His words and his immense passion speak well enough on its own. My desire is to take them to heart and apply them to my own life. It’s probably no stretch to say that most all of you reading this are blessed to be doing what you love, or working toward that goal. But as the years and decades roll on, we still need to be sure we’re still doing what we love. Times change. We change. And with these changes, most all of us are needing to adapt. So while we’re hopefully involved in a career we love, we may need to refine again what we’re doing. Jobs finished his speech with a quote from the last issue of The Whole Earth Catalog. For those of you too young to know what that was, it was an indie magazine published from the late 60s to the mid-70s. Jobs described it as, “One of the bibles of my generation.” It was sort of like Google in paperback form....it was idealistic, overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
They published several issues and when they felt it had run its course, they published their swan song. On the back cover was a photograph of a early morning country road. Jobs described it as, “The kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on, if you were so adventurous.” The quote under the photo was, Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Jobs closed his speech to the assembled class by saying, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And I’ve always wished that for myself. And now...I wish that for you. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”