Steve Jobs is one of my heroes and creative inspirations. This post hardly needs an introduction, so I'll keep this bit short. I seek and collect as many stories about Steve and his legacy as possible. In other words, if there's a YouTube interview of Steve Jobs, I've seen it. Thus, the following quotes and stories are some of my favorites, naturally I want to share them with you.
The Cabinet Story
In the opening few chapters of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bioepic, there’s a wonderful story about a philosophy Jobs learned from his father, Paul. Paul Jobs was a mechanic, one who could build almost anything with his hands. He had such an appreciation for craftsmanship that he’d finish both the front and backsides of cabinets, a habit which puzzled younger Steve. Nobody sees the backs of the cabinets, they only ever see the front, so eventually Steve said something like:
“Why are you doing that? Nobody will ever know.”
“Yes,” said Paul, “but you will know”.
Taking the extra time to build stuff so that even the concealed parts are beautiful is remarkable. I fear it’s becoming somewhat of a lost art. Industry demands efficiency, there’s neither time nor money for artisanal craftsmanship. Who cares about the backs of cabinets?
You see, it’s the people who are bold enough to “think different” who care. The artists of the world care. Whether it’s saving that extra character of code, or taking an additional few seconds to push in your chair, finishing life’s metaphorical “backs of the cabinet” simply for the sake of making something beautiful throughout is profound.
To Some, The Rules Do Not Apply
I'm an “Apple fan boy". As a former Windows user, I can't help but tip my hat to the employees of Apple for converting so many loyal followers. Maybe it's all just hype, a product of ingenuous marketing, but every single time I walk into a coffee shop in San Francisco, it's littered with little glowing Apple products.
The secret? In addition to brilliant marketing and design, I'll credit Steve's consistent disrespect for “the rules”. Below is a powerful quote from one of Steve’s old interviews that reveals his pirate perspective:
When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls to much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you—and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
For additional delightful reading on contrarian thinking I highly recommend picking up Everything I Know by Paul Jarvis. It's a short read (finished in an hour) but I was inspired by Paul's comments on originality. The thing is, most people obsess over mimicking their competition when really it’s their differences they should be leveraging.
The disrespect for structure is what ultimately unleashed the creative power of Jobs. Critique his controversial, tyrannical leadership style all you want, but you can't argue with the facts—Steve was successful in his mission to "put a ding" in the universe.
A company's success is directly correlated to its conviction in a future that doesn't already exist. In other words, the more you’re willing to challenge the status quo, the more likely you are to stumble upon real innovation.
On Signing Your Work
Pictured above are the actual signatures of the original 1982 Macintosh team. After many grueling months of working around the clock to finish the Macintosh, Steve circled his team and told them to sign a piece of paper because, “real artists sign their work". And they did—the Macintosh shipped with the engraved signatures of the engineers above on the inside of the case. Now, if you're a true Apple fan, you know that getting to the inside of Apple devices isn't easy—which makes the decision even more profound, because Steve knew that few eyes would ever actually see the signatures. Does this sound familiar?
Apple has communicated in their marketing over the years that they "care about the small stuff". Today, I see so many entrepreneurs honed in on their end goal that they skip as many details as possible. "Hack it", "screw it", "ship it", is the new mantra of Silicon Valley. I get it. Delivering is important, but at what cost? Suppose you were building an airplane instead of software, would you skip the details to finish faster? Probably not if you were the pilot.
Building A Company That Lasts
I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before.
$AAPL could become the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Executing on Steve’s vision, leadership continues to ship one cultural ripple after another. I’m not sure what Steve would've said about Apple’s latest announcement, but he might have worked on it for all I know.
I never met Steve Jobs, and I kind of like it that way, so that he exists in my mind as a larger-than-life legend rather than a mortal being. I don’t suppose he had a problem taking “the road untaken”. I imagine he would’ve welcomed criticism thrown his or Apple’s way. Because building something that withstands the force of time is incredibly difficult, just ask my eight-year-old sandcastle-building self. In that way, perhaps it’s Apple itself that will ultimately be Steve’s most influential product.
From one ruckus-maker to another, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Brian J. Hertzog