What I learned from Steve Jobs
Born in 1981, my early education did not involve computers as little more than a novelty. My education in computers happened concurrently with my teachers, at first, though like most children I and my contemporaries were soon better informed and more capable than the adults whose jobs were to instruct us. We learned on an Apple IIe, but my education wasn’t focused there.
Steve Jobs was ousted from his position with Apple Computer in 1985, too early in my life to pay attention or give much care. Not until his return to the company in 1996, when he rescued the then-flagging company and over the next fifteen years, built it into the corporate juggernaut we know today, did the man fall into my sphere of attention.
It goes without saying at this point that Apple Computer, now Apple Inc., has not seen a successful time without its electric co-founder, Steve Jobs. It remains to be seen how the company will fare without the man, without him to be able to make a dramatic return and save it, should Apple need saving in the future. But the general indication is, at least, that thanks to the strong foundations that Jobs spent his years building and then reinforcing, that won’t be necessary.
Why is that? What is it about Steve Jobs that makes Apple Inc. invincible for the foreseeable future? And what can we learn – or at least, what have I learned – that is worth emulating in my own business?
First, don’t fear failure. When Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985, he called it devastating at first, but looking back on it, he referred to the process as “freeing.”
“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,” said Jobs during a commencement address at Stanford University back in 2005. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
The world will keep turning, even if you don’t succeed. The sun will continue to rise and set, the moon will revolve around the earth, and none of them never need rest on your shoulders. You can turn your failures, however public or private, into an opportunity to do something new, or something better.
Next, there’s the importance of doing your utmost. Obviously this is a lesson that you can learn nearly anywhere, but as a craftsman, in the technology space, there’s no better man to learn from than the guy who’s selling computers at two or three times the price of his competitors, and winning. In talking to Playboy magazine back in 1985, Jobs had this to say:
“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
Don’t cut corners. Your quality will suffer, and your customers will be able to tell.
On perseverance, well, that’s important too. In building a business, it’s not a rare thing to come up against adversity. You’re going to struggle. Sometimes, it’s going to hurt.
Jobs says, “There are many moments that are filled with despair and agony, when you have to fire people and cancel things and deal with very difficult situations. That’s when you find out who you are and what your values are.”
And he’s right, you know. This is an easy lesson to get away from, for me, for several reasons. Suffice to say that a big key to both personal growth, and growth in one’s business, is to learn to best analyze the hardship, to learn from it and extract the lessons you need to move forward, better and stronger.
Oh, and one more thing.
I’ve long been aware of mortality – both mine and those around me. But rarely do I have to face it. Of course, that’s not really the point of things in the first place.
“No one wants to die,” said Jobs in that Stanford address. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
“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.”
The point of it is this: Courage. The courage to achieve what you want, the courage to do what you will. When you combine that with a dedication to quality, and a fearlessness when it comes to failure – knowing that you can learn from your mistakes and do better next time – I believe you can achieve a success that you can be proud of.
This is the education that I have taken from Steve Jobs. It may have only started tangentially on an Apple IIe, but it grew to encompass so much more than that little tiny green screen could have possibly done, all those years ago. He died today, at the age of 56. But his legacy lives on, as a business leader, a creative visionary and an entrepreneur whose drive and spirit, we can all learn from.
Thanks, Steve. So long.