Merriam Webster’s Online defines prolific as, “marked by abundant inventiveness or productivity <a prolific composer>.” I turned to this query after completing Walter Isaacson’s, Steve Jobs (Thorndike Press, 2011). Prolific, although not a descriptive used by Isaacson, came to mind as I finally closed the book. Yes, I admit I read a physical version of the book despite the tech infused visionary at its core. Prolific. How else can you describe someone who served as the catalyst for a list that includes…the Macintosh, Pixar blockbusters like Toy Story, Apple Stores, iTunes, the iPod, the App Store, the iPad? Prolific?
I read Isaacson searching for insights into transition. Where better than from Jobs? Over his 30+ year business career Jobs had been fired by Apple, nearly drove NeXT Computer into the ground, and started and stopped countless dietary and spiritual quests. These transitions occurred along the way to achieving more than any other business leader of our time. I reasoned that transition pulsed through his veins.
The book offers a chronological if not honest portrayal of Jobs. He was a quirky man; often cruel and prone to public displays of roller coaster emotions. Through vignettes we learn that, “Jobs’s worldview was his binary way of categorizing things. People were either enlightened or an asshole.” (Steve Jobs, pg 189). Later Isaacson shares that, “people were allowed, even encouraged, to challenge him, and sometimes he would respect them for it. But you had to be prepared for him to attack you, even bite your head off, as he processed your idea.” (Steve Jobs, pg 527). Intense. Perfectionist. Hurtful. A maniacal design instinct. An evangelist for the merger between technology and art. Visionary?
As a techie I’d heard much about the Jobs aura before. What I gained this time is a lens into two traits that are invaluable to transition; instinct and reach, or better reaching for the stars.
Instinct. Jobs relied on his instincts to drive many, many of the decisions that stood at the core of his success. He often ridiculed market researchers and analysts who used data and focus groups to support decision-making. I laughed when I read Isaacson sharing one of my favorite techie analogies in the book: “if you asked a farmer in the early 1900’s what she needed, she would have said a bigger horse. She would never have been able to conjure tractor.” Jobs used this missive to dismiss analysis and fortify his position that he alone knew what the customer wanted.
Not long ago I remember visiting Kripalu, a yoga center in western Massachusetts. During an afternoon session on stress our facilitator coached attendees to try to separate stressors (that which cause stress) from the stress itself. After reading about Jobs I think this isolation exercise would be beneficial for leveraging more fully our instincts in transition. My sense is that we would all benefit if we could slow down and observe when our instinct is trying to tell us a direction. Trusting our instincts is an extraordinary lesson that Jobs offers…albeit from an amplified dais.
I remember a funny instinct story. I was traveling in Brazil in the late 80’s with my then boyfriend, now husband. We were visiting Buzios, a peninsula about 90 miles north of Rio. On the beach one night we decided to have our tarot cards read. I remember his reading more than mine. Instinct came up. In fact the reader, who happened to be this lithe blond from Santa Barbara, told him that he’d miss big things if he didn’t learn to rely more heavily on his instinct. His reaction was something like, “why would I ever do that?” The concept was truly foreign to his linear, logic driven mind that found comfort in classes like “thermo dynamics” in college (e.g. a requirement for engineering students at the time). What is your read on instinct? Are you listening enough or has logic overruled?
Reach or reaching for the stars. Jobs was “crazy enough to think he could change the world.” (Steve Jobs, forward) Jobs led a life of never compromising on his dreams. He was a constant experimenter who filtered out the barriers that stood in front of him or his teams. He never lent credence to statements about ‘why’ something couldn’t be done. The learning from all of this? Dream bigger!
In transition once you settle on a potential dream, design experiments that can bring you closer to understanding it. Recall Herminia Ibarra in Novofemina’s Summer Book Review #9 Working Identity, “advises “crafting experiments.” (Working Identity, pg 91-96) “Experiments allow us to re-frame the questions guiding a career search.” (Working Identity, pg 98) Jobs was relentless on his inquiry and experiments. He tried thousands of iterations before settling on minute details for every product. Have you ever tried to remove the filters that stop you from reaching?
Like it or not, we’ve all benefited from the quirky, artful, mean-spirited Jobs. In his brilliance he even offered something new to those thinking about transition. I hope you trust your instinct and identify at least one small experiment for this week. For me, I’ve just scored my first paid syndication of a blog post. Who knew? Reach.
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