Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

Steve Jobs died several hours ago. There is a simple acknowledgement on my Apple desktop. Steve Jobs 1955-2011. We all expected this. When I read the news this morning on my iphone, I didn’t know what I was feeling. We don’t know this man. Yet he changed our lives. “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.” he had proclaimed. A commencement address that Steve Jobs gave to Stanford University’s class of 2005 has gained renewed interest with the announcement his resignation from Apple and now with his death.

Jobs, who never finished college, shared with the graduates what he learned from three major life events: dropping out of Reed College after one semester – “It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it one of the best decisions I ever made,”; getting fired from Apple in 1985 – “It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life,”; and being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004 – “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.”

He concluded the speech by sharing with the graduates a phrase that he first saw on the back of the final issue of ‘The Whole Earth Catalogue’ when he was the age of the graduates: ‘Stay hungry. Stay foolish.’ – “And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

He is called the ‘Michelangelo of the digital age’. “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new…” he said, which is most telling of his famous approach to his work that kept him ahead of the curve. He transformed our lives without asking us what we want. On this day, I pay my tribute to a man who has inspired me by reflecting on some of what he said at the prime and not so prime of his life.

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

“Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Wired, February 1996

“But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.” – Business Week October 2004

“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 — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

“No one wants to die. 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.” – Stanford commencement speech, June 2005

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