I have tried to avoid commenting on Steve Jobs and his death – lots has been written by people far more knowledgable than me. I have rad a number of things though – this one by John Johnson I only read this week, but it is one of the best and most stimulating. Originally it was published here,
10 Things I Learned from Steve Jobs
Reading Isaacson’s Steve Jobs has been a pretty amazing experience. I just finished last night. And, like Gordon MacDonald, who recently wrote a piece on Jobs, I regretted getting to the last page. He has to be one of the most unique men who has ever lived. Maybe history will place him in the pantheon next to Edison and Ford, for he truly built the world’s most creative company, Apple. He launched a series of products that transformed whole industries:
- Apple II
- Toy Story
- Apple Stores
- iTunes Store
- App Store
So here are some takeaways from his life:
1. Be as meticulous with the unseen as you are with the seen.
Jobs grew up as an adopted child, and lived in a working class home. His father loved to work with his hands, and work in his garage. He was meticulous with detail. He taught his son to craft the backs of things like cabinets and fences, even though they are hidden. The important lesson he learned was to do things right, to care about the parts you cannot see. It led him to despise carelessness in a product. He applied this to everything he created at Apple.
2. Never underestimate the formative influence you can have with a middle schooler.
This part of the story scared me, as I think about the words I say as a pastor. Jobs attended a Lutheran church as child, but it came to an end when he was thirteen. He confronted his pastor with a question regarding human suffering and the sovereignty of God, and the pastor’s answer led him to reject Christianity. He went on to practice the tenets of Zen Buddhism, mixed with meditation and spirituality, acid and rock. He followed the basic precepts of Eastern religions. Until his final days, he never had any real assurance about the things of God. He concluded that different religions have different doors to the same house, and maybe the house exists and maybe it doesn’t.
3. A fly in the ointment can spoil the perfume.
Jobs had an amazing, creative mind. He was a genius. He could absorb information and sniff the future winds. He inspired and challenged the very best from people, and attracted the very best minds in the world. He won people to a cause, and it moved CEO’s from major corporations (like Sculley of Pepsico-“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”). He attracted the brightest and bests artists and engineers. He could be charming, charismatic, and even mesmerizing. But he could also be manipulative, brutally cold, and rude. There was no regulator between his mind and his mouth. He created unnecessary fears because of his spontaneous temper tantrums and his proclivity to tell people exactly what he thought. Ultimately, his profane and nasty edge hindered more than helped him.
4. There is great power in intensity and focus.
Isaacson, after all of his research and interviews came to the conclusion that Jobs’ most salient trait was his intensity. He set priorities and aimed his laser attention on them. He could filter out all distractions. Jobs believed that deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Because Jobs brought intensity into everything he did, it created its own tension. He was tightly coiled and impatient. His silences could be as searing as his rants. He either praised you or cursed you. It was either a great product or it was crap. Whatever he was interested in, he almost always took to an irrational extreme. But this is a huge part of what made his accomplishments great. One is left wondering if one can truly achieve at a level of greatness without this.
5. Intuition is every bit as important as intellect.
Jobs learned the value of intuition in his journeys to India. He came to intuitively know when someone was faking it or truly knew something, and that gained him a great advantage in dealing with people.
The designs of his products also reflected this. Jobs saw simplicity as the ultimate sophistication. He wanted to make things intuitively obvious and simple. It’s why everything I have purchased from Apple has no instructions. But behind this simplicity is a ton of engineering and design, digging through the depth of complexity. “To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.”
6. It’s not a sin to steal great ideas.
Jobs liked to quote from Picasso—‘good artists steal’, and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas. Most everything I have done in ministry is a reflection of things I have taken from people like Peterson, Collins, Hybels, Crabb, McKnight, Taylor, etc., and I suspect that is true for most of us
7. Ideas mean little without execution.
Ideas, by their very nature, have a high mortality rate. It takes huge discipline to save the life of ideas and see them become reality. Jobs was committed to challenging his teams to innovate, create, and then condense the very best ideas down to two or three, and then give everything to fleshing them out.
8. Having high expectations and demands can lead to greatness.
As already noted, Jobs could be both demoralizing and inspiring. He had zero tolerance for under performance. For every person who could not handle Jobs’ withering words, there were others who were not crushed and burned out, and became stronger. He pressed people beyond their limits, and many rose to the occasion and thrived and did things they never dreamed possible. He motivated by looking at the bigger picture. He instilled in his team an esprit de corps. He tapped into the human need—not to make lots of money—but to do the greatest thing possible in their field. And those who bought in—who were A+ players came to the same place of not tolerating B level work.
9. Never stop growing.
Jobs saw many who entered their forties and started developing rigid patterns–stopped being innovative. He determined to never get stuck in patterns, like grooves in a record, in which one never gets out. He was inspired by artists like Dylan that the best artists and engineers (and pastors) keep evolving, moving, and refining their art. “If you’re not busy being born, you’re dying.” So Jobs kept making bold moves, all the way to the end. Like Henry Ford, he refused to give customers what they wanted. As he put it, “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” Or as Ford once said, “If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse.’” He kept his eye out into the future, asking himself where the next generation was headed.
10. Greatness has its limits.
Jobs craved control. He could manipulate and stare down people, charm and seduce at will. He believed the rules didn’t apply to him—that he could even distort reality and will things into existence. But Jobs failed to realize, intuit, that he couldn’t. That some things are beyond his control, like cancer and death, and how one chooses to spend eternity.