Thursday, October 6, 2011 6:59 AM
In the hours since Steve Jobs death was announced, the world has seemingly fallen into a conjoined state of mourning…well, at least according to my Twitter feed. Quotes Steve made over the years fill the stream, along with reports of people gathering at Apple stores with some garnering memorials outside their doors.
Very rarely has someone from the corporate world garnered such a response to their passing. Even more rarely does a corporate individual get a statement from the US President. But its becoming obvious that Steve Jobs was more than just a company figurehead but the emotional connection between a company, its products, and its customers.
While I do own Macs, I’m in no way what you’d call a fanboi. I somewhat chuckled at the ‘Cult of Mac’ that would pop up around WWDC or other announcement events, the over-the-top enthusiasm of Mac store employees, or the rabid defense that OSX would receive if any criticism was levelled. While recognizing Jobs and his contribution to technology, and how sad his passing is distantly for us and more immediate and infinitely more painful to his family, the impact personally is somewhat minimal.
After listening to his Stanford graduation speech he gave, and reading various quotes, I have a greater respect for the passion he brought to his company and to his life. Below are a few thoughts.
Life Really Is Short – Don’t Waste It
I turn 35 this year. In my mind, I’m at the half-way mark. If I hit 70, I’ve lived well…if I live beyond that, its gravy. My parents are in their late 60’s and while I had grandparents live well into their 90’s I’m aware that such longevity is rare. Mortality is knocking louder at the door of my psyche.
And yet more and more we hear of the ‘C’ word and witness the damage it can do. When I was a child, 30 was ancient. Now 50 is young, and dying before 60 is much too early. It’s frightening to realize that our lifespans might be nearing the best-before date sooner than we think. One of Steve’s quotes -
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
My dad told me something very thoughtful and sad all at the same time. He recounted how he was at a funeral where a colleague commented on how, after everyone leaves, eventually people will stop visiting your grave…and a while after that, after generations pass, nobody will be around to remember you or who you were or what you did. Another of Steve’s quotes-
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
We’re here and we’re gone, and the most important person to live for is you – in all of life’s ways, in all the experiences we can have, in all the opportunities we can take (and that those of us blessed with living in a country that allows us to have those opportunities), they are ours if we’re brave enough to take them. One of the best lines from The Shawshank Redemption is
Get busy living, or get busy dying.
I think this insight might be Steve’s biggest gift to us.
Start Getting Your Affairs in Order
While tributes and Twitter messages and blog posts (ironic) are wonderful, Steve doesn’t hear or see them. The outpouring is mainly a self-focussed display to cope with shared grief and loss – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it made me think – how often do I tell the people in my life how much I appreciate them, or love them, or am inspired by them? How often do we share with friends and family how truly proud we are of their achievements, how often do we express what life would be like without them? What about co-workers and colleagues, without whom the 9-5 world would be hindered and horrible without?
When Steve was first diagnosed with Cancer, he was told by his doctors to “get your affairs in order” (as he deciphers it, ‘get ready to die’). That’s been the status-quo: go go go go go go crap you’re gonna die better go talk to those people you never took the time to because you were too busy.
I suggest we have to start getting our affairs in order today, and that its an ongoing part of who we are. James Taylor sang “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel”. Sounds touchy-feely, but it rings true – our human experience is rooted in social interaction and mutual support. People don’t need encouragement in the waning hours of their life, they need to know the impact their life has now as they press on through life’s obstacle course.
Be Fanatical About the Right Things
Being fanatical about a product or brand to the detriment or discrimination of others is stupid. For years we’ve seen this manufactured rivalry between Apple and Microsoft. Books and movies have been made, stories told and retold, and sides chosen in the corporate battle between two technology heavyweights.
But nobody in the Microsoft camp is cheering on the demise of Steve Jobs. Bill Gates himself called Steve a friend and stated how deeply saddened he was at his passing. Competition in business is a given. Business is a sport that doesn’t require athletics in the traditional sense, and yet it also draws on so many aspects of professional sports. Businesses have fans, sometimes rabidly loyal fans who make it known their feelings about competing teams. But the players, the coaches…while nemesis on the field, many are friends or even family off the field.
I had this realization with professional sports a while back – being a fan of a team, especially a team in a different city, is really kind of…lame? Weird? I tell people my NFL team is the Atlanta Falcons. I’ve never been to Atlanta. I have no connections to the city or to the state of Georgia (aside from some friends who live there). I chose the Falcons as my team back in junior high when I started collected NFL cards and decided I needed a team – I chose the one with what I thought was the coolest logo. And boy, I used to get angry when they didn’t play well! And when they did, I would make sure friends who cheered for other teams knew it! I bought hats, shirts, and jackets with the Falcons logo on it, wearing it proudly as they were “my” team.
But they aren’t! Why do I have this loyalty? Why do I cheer for a group that I have no connection to? I believe its because we all long to belong to something, to be associated with a group of people that we can relate with. Sports does that. Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, mechanic, janitor, or cook; married, divorced, with kids, without kids; young, old, male, female, gay, Christian, Muslim, Hindu; whatever other labels we attach to ourselves, whatever badges we hold, sports allows us to relate to one another across boundaries and find common ground. Such is it with technology and brands and products, which is why Apple has such a strong fan base and why they rail against those of a different team – a different fan base.
How awesome would it be if we became fans of improving our cities, reducing poverty, creating stronger economies, fixing the ailments of our world? What if those were our teams, those were what we became fans of? I don’t care if you think your Mac Book Pro and OSX is better than Windows 7 and a Dell laptop, what I care about is how either of those technologies can be used to improve the most important team on this planet – Humanity. I think Steve’s passing brought that to light – while competitors in business, the wise elders of our industry realized at some point what was important in life. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gates has at least one Mac in his house.
I saw a tweet quoting Karl Marx of all people -
Last words are for people who haven’t said anything in life.
Steve Jobs said a lot in his life, much of which we haven’t heard because they were for his four children and his wife. As he said at Stanford, this is the natural progression of life – out with the old, in with the new. Those of us still here have an opportunity to pick up that torch and carry in, preparing the way for those who will be the ‘new’ to come after us. While we need to keep them in mind, we need to remember that our life is first and foremost ours. A precious opportunity and gift that can either be squandered or embraced – just remember that in either case nobody will care or be impacted as much as you personally. I hope, while candles burn outside Apple stores, that Steve’s true message of life isn’t lost.