Thursday, October 6, 2011
Steve Jobs: So close to saying "God."
I certainly am. The world needs brilliant, creative, iconoclastic but sensible and realistic entrepreneurs, and each of those adjectives certainly applied to Steve Jobs. Even those of us who own PCs are really using Macs in some piece or form. Even if we're too cheap to have bought a real iPod, our imitations all owe their success to it. Even if we haven't downloaded iTunes (and most of us have), the idea of music organized and procured through our computers instead of in the physical world has transformed our listening.
And the guy was a deep thinker, viewing events and circumstances in a broader context. This is especially clear when you read the address he gave to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University.
In it, he tells three stories. The first one explains how dropping out of Reed College allowed him the freedom to audit classes there he enjoyed, one of which--in calligraphy--a decade later influenced the typography available on all personal computers. His point was that eschewing the conventional path turned out to have a major positive impact, but he only saw it years later, when he could "connect the dots" in retrospect.
Steve Jobs' second story describes when, at age 30, he got fired from the helm of the very company he'd founded, just a year after its release of the Macintosh computer. It was a very public failure, but resulted in his later triumphant return to the company, the creation of Pixar films, and the bonus of meeting and marrying his wife. His message in that story was to have confidence in pursuing what you love, despite obstacles.
And his last story described his initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Jolted by the doctor's advice to "settle his affairs" for imminent death, he focused on what truly mattered, which was again, doing what he loved. Turns out he had an operable form of the disease, and he survived another six years.
In his commencement address, he says, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
I admire Steve Jobs' accomplishments and his passion--and wonder about his conclusion. He implies that "your own inner voice," what he also calls "your heart and intuition" is an independent entity which, anthropomorphically, "already knows what you truly want to become." And he talks about events in his life as casual accidents that later, "connect" to make perfect sense and seem to have had a purpose.
Between Steve Jobs' very eloquent words I see him dancing around the concept of God. What is your "heart" and "intuition"? Is it just your taste? Stuff you enjoy? Do events just "occur" or, as he implies, do they happen so that something later can come of them? Were Steve Jobs' enormous talents and dynamic, energetic enthusiasm--his drive--random genetic facts, or abilities and attitudes he cultivated, pondered and, through what--God?--had the opportunity and circumstances to make wildly important and successful?
He also seems to rebel against convention, almost ironic since he worked so well with the business establishment. He admonishes against "living with the result of other people's thinking," and of course, we're all living (happily) with the results of his. "Don't be trapped by dogma," he warns, and while rigid adherence to unexamined instructions can surely stifle creativity, sometimes "dogma" is formed out of the collective wisdom and experience of people who have come before. Such predecessors can be insightful, and they can be prescient, and they can suggest you break out of the mold. And at the same time intimate that all their certainty still holds questions. That's the wonderful gift of people like Steve Jobs.
Note: It has been said that Steve Jobs was a Buddhist, though sources about his religious activities and affiliation are scant other than a well-documented relationship decades ago with Zen master Kobun Chino, who early on was the "spiritual advisor" for his company.