When I first read about Steve Jobs and what I learned from him

I recall reading about Steve Jobs for the first time when I was 14. Strangely, it wasn’t his Wikipedia page or the movie review of the biopic they had made on his life but rather a short excerpt from one of the chapters, dedicated to “Inventors and Visionaries”, from my Class 8 Moral Science textbook.

Sadly, I hadn’t paid much attention in class that day so I don’t remember every last line from it however the iconic Steve Jobs thinking pose picture and the quote “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” from the excerpt did stick in my head for the longest time possible (Only to realize later that the quote itself was not originally his). The quote always had a funny ring to it and always had me and my classmates cracking up as we deciphered its literal meaning — stay hungry during breaks and you will be foolish!

Fast Forward to 2020 and being stuck at home during lockdown had me slothfully installed on the sofa facing the TV and binging one movie after the other. This is when I came across the ‘Jobs’ biopic played by Ashton Kutcher. That was my first window into the fanatic world I fell into for Steve Jobs. What followed was the pursuit of learning more by binging endless videos on YouTube whose titles began with ‘Life of Steve Jobs…’, ‘Jobs in the Making…’, ‘The Story of how Apple started…’ and so on which was finally followed by Walter Isaacson’s biography on Jobs. The biography finally quenched my thirst for learning about Jobs’ early life and other anecdotes from his life. But I wasn’t done yet. I binged every Apple Event starting from the “Launch of the First Macintosh” in 1984 to the very last one that Jobs addressed, resigning from his post at Apple Inc. as CEO after his health deteriorated in Mid-2011. I watched another biopic which went by his very name, played by Michael Fassbender. This continued for months and even after two years since then, I find myself watching any video with ‘Steve Jobs’ in the title (often even the clickbaity ones). The 2004 Commencement Speech of Steve Jobs at Stanford happens to be my favorite commencement speech of all time!

For the longest time, I have been trying to put together a post here wondering where do I start from and what do I say. For the first time, I had a plethora to refer to and write from but I wondered if that would be enough to get it all out. Should I be writing a “Life Lessons to be learned from…” post or simply a fan article talking about his entire life — which I don’t think I could do as even a talented author like Walter Isaacson took more than 500 pages to write about. It’s one of those information overload things I am going through right now — a lot in mind but unable to carve it out for my audience. Finally, I decided instead of writing a clickbaity post about what you could learn from Steve Jobs, I could write about what I loved about him the most. And if you happen to like those, you could follow them or share your experience about it. So here we go:

  1. Design even the unseen or hidden

“More than that, he wanted a product that would, in his words, make a dent in the universe.”

-Steve Jobs Autobiography by Walter Isaacson

In the world we live in today, productivity is valued every everything. Getting things done and checking them off your reminders list is all that matters. The details are often tossed away for a later examination — most of which are never addressed henceforth. However, these details and the efforts you put into making these details more visible are actually what defines the authenticity of your work and differentiate it from the rest. It’s not all about getting it done before the deadline and shipping the product. Sure, robots are working in assembly lines in factories who could do a better job at replicating the work and shipping too however the only thing that differentiates us from these machines is our ability to put in the effort to make even the unseen details in a product.

When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were designing the very first Apple Computer back in the 70s, I recall reading they were under huge pressure to ship out hundreds of Apple I’s for an order. Though they had help from friends they were a bit behind schedule for their very first order — a not-so-good sign for a new business in town. Wozniak was of the opinion to focus on the functional parts and get the end product ready to ship as soon as possible however Jobs intervened here to make sure that even the unseen and potentially hidden parts within the machine got the attention they needed. This was perhaps a lesson taught to him by his dad, Paul Jobs, who was a car machinist and often taught Steve about the beauty of perfection and how good craftsmanship was about caring even for the parts unseen. What we now like to call Apple’s ‘Attention-to-details’ to their products and services is not something new but I believe inherently that it was something instilled in the very culture at Apple by Jobs himself. The level of detailing followed by Jobs and the team at Apple now for their products is what convinces their customers to own one and talk about it at length. Without this, an iPod would have just been another Walkman and the iPad just another Tablet out there.

Don’t design it for the deadline, design it for yourself!

2. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and sell it higher than the lemons

Sorry for the Phil-Dunphy-inspired quote above. Funny as it may sound, it is true that lemonade does actually sell higher than lemons. So why be bothered by life giving you lemons? Does the positive and can-do attitude always help you get out of difficult situations? You might not believe so when you are in one but yes… I do believe lemonade sells higher than lemons (and is tastier and less sour than just eating raw lemons).

“He emphasized that you should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.”

-Steve Jobs Autobiography by Walter Isaacson

Jobs was ousted from Apple Inc. in 1985. This was just a year or so after the launch of the Macintosh computer. Several factors within Apple at that time along with Jobs’ difficult-to-put-up-with nature made him leave the organization he had co-founded nine years ago. This surely must have been a real low point in his life. Was it the end for Steve Jobs? Hell NO! It took him less than three years after that to find his next venture and convince his best employees who followed him from Apple to join it. His next company was literally next-level as in “NeXT”. As Walter Isaacson put it very well in his book “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything.”

In NeXT, they made computers targeting specifically higher education institutes and business professionals. Did they succeed? Umm… not really. However, the software they developed for this computer known as NeXTSTEP did sparkle bright enough to catch Apple’s attention which finally acquired NeXT in 1996 along with the return of Jobs to Apple primarily as an advisor (and later CEO again). This software — NeXTSTEP was used as a foundation for the software we now know to be running on millions of Macs today — macOS X. Not only that but during this period in the early 90s, Steve also invested heavily in an Animation Studio co-founded by Ed Catmull.

If you loved watching Toy Story, Cars, A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and Monster Inc. as a kid and still love the recent Disney-Pixar movies, you got to thank the lemons life gave to Steve Jobs (and the lemonade he made!).

3. Know thy Heart

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

~ Steve Jobs

Shakespeare will be disappointed with how I phrase this hence. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to put in words what you want from life. In the pursuit of “making a better tomorrow”, we forget if today was any fruitful. I don’t mean to comment on the sacrifices humans make daily for a better future however, the efforts I do. Is it worth doing the same things over and over again without expecting or finding different results? Does it make sense to your inner self?

Ever makes you wonder what kept Jobs driven even after being ousted from the very company he founded? What kept him working till the very last year of his life? I wondered the same. Even after being diagnosed with cancer and constant deterioration of his health, he had reasons enough to step down and let someone else continue the legacy of Apple but the man refused to do so until August 2011, just two months before his death. He did answer us and the answer was seemingly simple — what he did at Apple was what he loved the most. People who give up soon don’t love what they did and so when times get tough (or when life gives you lemons) — they quit. But those who like what they do, stand their ground and that’s what makes the difference. Jobs often said that he stood in front of the mirror every night and asked if what he did today was satisfying or making a difference. When the answer was ‘No’ for a repeated number of days, he made sure to act differently the following day.

I feel I could go on and on about Jobs all day. However, I would like to save those thoughts for maybe another such post. As I said before, Jobs commencement speech at Stanford is one of my favorite and I believe you should watch it once if you haven’t yet. The way he weaves the narrative of his entire life in the 15-minute speech is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Above all, I would like to know when you first read/heard or met Steve Jobs and what lessons you took away from his life. Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time… Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!

~Aditya Darekar

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