Steve Jobs would have celebrated his birthday today, 24 February.
On the way home today, I met a musician friend whom I hadn’t seen for years, and we stopped by a café and had a conversation that moved into a surprising space, and our conversation became a ‘where were you when Steve Jobs died’ sort of talk. My friend told me about his first Apple on which he wrote music, and I told him how the original iMac and iBook (remember those?) helped me learn how to make movies and cool slideshows.
I’m writing this on a Macbook Pro. I will later process photos to accompany this article on an iMac while listening to music on iTunes, and I’ll check the layout for mobile devices using an iPad and an iPhone. My creative life is surrounded by things that have bits in them that were thought up in Steve Jobs’ mind.
When someone iConic passes on, there’s a melancholic reflection that hits the fans hard.
After all, the great ones are the ones that pass on a legacy we have to pay attention to. Dreams are contagious, and inspiring. What did we learn from the man who taught us to think different?
“We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”Steve Jobs
This is especially meaningful in a period of uncertainty and conflict, when the news saps your optimism, and good news seems alien and happening in some other part of the world in which you are not.
Staying true to your vision is even more important in the lean times because that’s when you might doubt yourself and your choices. If you emerge from a dearth of opportunities with your vision uncompromised, its integrity will give you work that is meaningful and beautiful.
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”Steve Jobs
Raising the bar every time you do something new is something that Steve Jobs taught us in a very visible way. When naysayers were telling him he couldn’t make a phone that didn’t have buttons, he just went ahead and did it and now it’s embedded in our lives, a concept that’s been interpreted by every other smart phone company, and the world is so used to it that we’ve forgotten the original touch phone and how it changed the way we use phones.
“Design is not just how it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”Steve Jobs
Having a design mindset is something that’s evolved in the recent decade, as more and more people churn out original content that others can see, hear and use. The technology that Steve Jobs helped to put out there made it easier to make indy stuff—remember those things like calendars on iPhoto, videos on iMovie. This shift in how we thought—from consumers to creators—was something that Jobs’ vision helped to teach people.
All the neat stuff we share with each other is all about design now. Think about how we learned photo technique on our own: Youtube videos, podcasts, and apps are some of the more common tools. Not only are our tools products of this type of design thinking, but we are also more critical of functionality. I have always liked the ergonomics of the Nikon camera bodies. And it’s a simple reason why—the right side of the camera’s body has undulating curves that help me grip it firmly for a whole day without hurting my hand. This type of design—an intelligent design, is something that Steve Jobs helped the world learn.
“Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”Steve Jobs
It is often the simplicity of an Apple product that makes it elegant. Maybe you don’t recall the days when drag and drop was not the norm, but I do. And there is a simple satisfaction in being able to drag and drop things on an Apple computer desktop. One simple fluid step, and you’ve begun to organize your desktop. It’s time saving, and time saving means you can move on to the more important things instead of spending time on multiple steps just to organize folders in your hard drive.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”Steve Jobs
Maybe you won’t earn as much money doing one type of creative work as another. But if you love it a lot, chances are you will be more open-minded as you create. You’ll probably be more relaxed, and as a result more ready for creative thinking.
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”Steve Jobs
I think often of how a class in calligraphy that Jobs took when he was auditing college courses apparently impacted his aesthetics. The craziness I see in his life isn’t that he dropped out of college, went to India and that he dropped acid in his younger days.
The crazy I see in him, the quality that isn’t a default setting in a lot of people, is that he learned something that wasn’t obviously going to fit a yellow brick road to good design, and he incorporated a sense of it in his own aesthetic.
Calligraphy is graceful, fluid, and has an economy that is functional yet elegant.
That could be the description of a lot of the Apple products Steve helped birth.
“I want to put a ding in the universe.”Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs enchanted us with his ideas because he never allowed himself to lose track of his vision. He once said, “I was worth over $1,000,000 when I was 23, and over $10,000,000 when I was 24, and over $100,000,000 when I was 25, and it wasn’t that important because I never did it for the money.” The important thing here is not the part about the money. (Apple during Jobs’ day had more cash than the US. I mean, insanely so.)
The lesson here is something that creative people have known although rarely ever really talk about (because talking about it is time taken away from just being creative).
It’s about internal motivation. A vision that’s internalized serves a stronger motivator than something external, like money. That ding Steve put in the universe is not a goal he probably set—he was probably more worried about design, how to make something simple like an iPhone so powerful. He was probably solving problems that were concrete.
But deep inside him, that vision was what sustained his drive. That’s what makes the ding.
And the universe heard it. Happy Birthday, Steve Jobs. Thanks.