Every once in a while there comes along an extraordinary character who makes us all sit up and take notice. Steve Jobs is one of these. What I want to talk about today is not the extraordinary success he had with Apple achieving incredible growth and market dominance. The business publications can talk extensively about this.
What interests me is his personal transformation.
When Jobs and Steve Wozniak (some 35 years ago) came together they were, like Bill Gates, true pioneers shaping technology that has changed our world. At the time, most people described Jobs as arrogant, close minded, and hard to work with. People called him one of the Valley’s leading egomaniacs. He was a college drop out. He grew up poor. Many people saw him as potentially a “one-hit wonder” after his initial Apple/Mac creations.
As the drama unfolds the company grows exponentially (which would have likely been a management challenge for any great manager). By most accounts, Jobs did not have a knack for leading such a complex business. By 1985, the Apple Board of Directors had it, and they fired the guy who gave birth to the company. Amazing.
Not that he was destitute after being fired. But for anyone who has lost their job, the experience can shake the psyche of even a strong-willed self-confident person. Jobs was out. . . for 18 years, and them miraculously resumed control of the business after the team of “professional managers” under John Scully seemed to have lost their way after producing a variety of product bungles.
Jobs was back. Somehow no longer the arrogant bad boy. Today people have described him as charming, good-humored, and mature. Additionally he is seen as intensely passionate and focused on product excellence, having an emotional intensity that is was awe-inspiring to fellow employees at Apple. He was no longer a bully.
What accounted for the transformation?
During his famous 2007 commencement address at Stanford, he talked about being fired and how that changed him “I really didn’t know what to do . . . I felt that I had let down an entire generation of young entrepreneurs.” He said in retrospect, being fired was the best thing that could have happened to him. He said it this way “the heaviness of being successful was replaced with the lightness of being a beginner again”. He realized that he still had a love for his work, and he went on to pioneer the development of PIXAR. He says it is about loving yourself and what you do . . . whatever that is for you.
In recent years, he was further changed by facing death – being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer himself. He was given 6 months to live. Think about it . . . about how you would react.
Here is how he says that changed his perspective: “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.”
Having lived through it – he philosophically says that it [death] is one of the best inventions of life – natures own way of clearing out the old and making way for the new. It is the only thing we all share in common.
He reminds us that our time here is limited, so he challenged those young Stanford students to remember we don’t have that long on this earth so they should not:
- “Waste time living someone else’s life,
- Be trapped with dogma, being trapped into living with someone else’s thinking, and
- Let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
Jobs closed his remarks by describing the final issue of the Whole Earth Catalog. For the younger readers of this, Whole Earth was the idealistic creation of the hippie-like Stewart Brand during the late’60’s and early 70’s. In their final issue they published a farewell message on the very back cover page. On it was an early morning picture of a long and winding country road. Beneath it were the words “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”
Not a bad admonition . . . even in 2011.