Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is by far the best biography I’ve ever read. The 500-plus page book read very easily. It also depicts Steve Jobs’ intense personality in objective terms—though always intriguing, often times equally unpleasant. If you haven’t read Steve Jobs yet, I highly recommend you put it at the top of your must-read list.

Beyond being informative, I found it incredibly inspiring. I relate to Jobs in a number of ways: I work at a relatively young company that still has the entrepreneurial spirit of a new start-up; I have a passion for perfection in design; I design products in this environment and face similar challenges faced by Steve Jobs throughout his career.

Steve Jobs is packed with insight, but there were several parts that I identified with on a deeper level that I think are worth sharing.

Among [Xerox’s] visionaries was the scientist Alan Kay, who had two great maxims that Jobs embraced: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” and “People who are serious about software should make their own hardware.”

That first maxim is simple and powerful. One of Steve Jobs’ most brilliant insights, in my opinion, was that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. I think his revelation came partly from the Alan Kay maxim. I use both Alan Kay’s maxim and Steve Jobs’ quote as a mantra. It is a reminder to myself to always try and think outside the box, to not fear creative ideas, even if they get shot down at first. No one ever changed the world by copying what somebody else already did or by doing exactly what somebody else told them to do.

Jobs had latched on to what he thought was a key management lesson from his Macintosh experience: You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. “It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players…The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.”

Brutal as this sentiment is, it’s the truth. There is nothing worse than working in a team where you can tell a couple team members are not 110% on-board or motivated, or they lack the talent needed to get the job done. The effect B players have on a team is viral. They infect the A players and seem to multiply into more B players and eventually C players. The effect is paralyzing. Trimming the fat, as some say, is certainly necessary and often beneficial to both A players and B/C players, even if some of the team members do not realize it as such at the time.

When Jobs asked for a number of options to consider, Rand declared that he did not create different options for clients. “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs. “You can use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.”

This is what Paul Rand, the graphic designer behind logos like IBM and UPS, told Steve Jobs when he was courted to create the logo for NeXT. That line impressed Jobs. And in my opinion, regardless of who it does and doesn’t impress, it is the stance every graphic designer/web designer/web developer/freelancer/passionate creative should take. Too often clients take advantage of the people they employ. But the fault, as much as it’s the client’s, is also the creative’s. There are more elegant ways of exercising this philosophy when negotiating business, but if you take any other stance—one that will enable others to take advantage of what you have to offer—there is no one to blame but yourself.

“You’ve got to reinvent the company to do some other thing, like other consumer products or devices. You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.” Jobs didn’t say much, but he agreed.

This quote came from Mike Markkula, second CEO of Apple Computer, Inc., as he and Steve Jobs discussed how to make Apple a company that would endure. It’s telling in that one of the things that made Jobs and Apple so successful, aside from Jobs’ natural genius, was the inspiration that surrounded the company. Jobs could get things done, but he was not really much of an idea man. His true talent was that he could execute against the ideas of others like no one else. And I think that’s a really tough skill to master. Ideas are everywhere, in every interaction. The hard part isn’t always coming up with an idea for something great, but recognizing the greatness in an idea when it’s put forth and then turning it into reality. The metamorphosis metaphor is a powerful one, too. Whether talking about how to build a company that can endure, or executing against a great idea, metamorphosis is a critical part of the process.

One of Jobs’s business rules was to never be afraid of cannibalizing yourself. “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will,” he said.

The idea of cannibalizing one’s self is perhaps not as graceful as the butterfly metamorphosis metaphor, but equally as powerful. Whether it’s “failing fast” or “horizontal diversification” or some other corporate-ese, a service or product will only be fruitful for so long—the more successful or unique the proposition, the shorter one can afford to play it safe and rest on one’s laurels. In this sense, there’s no room for hesitation to create something new for fear of self-cannibalization. The idea rings similar to Jobs’ “Stay hungry, stay foolish” quote, but with more urgency.

“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…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.”

Life is too short. It’s a cliché that shares borders with oblivion. But out of all the variations of the saying, I like Jobs’ the best. This quote came from his 2005 Stanford commencement address. His words are my memento mori—the thing that reminds me to cannibalize myself, to be the butterfly, to be brutally honest, to not settle for B players, to invent my own future.

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