Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mourning the Death of Steve Jobs — and Learning From Him

The soon-to-be-released Steve Jobs biography

I just spent a lovely two weeks in Paris and Rennes — lovely until the last morning, just hours before I flew home, when I got the news that Steve Jobs had died.

I've long been an Apple fan, because Apple products are such a delight to use, and make me so much more productive. As an organizer, I recommend investing in quality for the tools you use all the time, and my computing tools certainly fall into that category. On this trip, I had Steve's products with me — an iPhone and an iPad — and they served me well. On that last morning, they let me connect with others who were grieving, as I was.

In reading all the memorials, and listening to Steve's words again, I was struck by how much of what he said (and what others have said, in those memorials) resonates with themes I've often touched on here.

1. Good tools are a worthwhile investment.

I've already commented on this, but I love what Nancy Nall wrote about this topic. She starts with the story of a long-ago nightmare flight back home from Paris, and ends her story this way:
As we winged our way to Ohio, I asked myself if I’d have paid $200 to avoid the previous 24 hours, to get on a nice Air France or Pan Am jet at Orly and get off at Port Columbus, skipping Alitalia and the nonfunctioning toilets and the angry passenger and the train to the plane and all the rest of it, and thought: Oh, hell yes.

Years later, as I was contemplating the purchase of another computer, I learned that formatting a floppy in MS-DOS required me to type…

FORMAT drive: /C

…plus some other stuff, and if I got so much as a comma or space in the wrong place, it wouldn’t work. And if I bought the PowerPC Mac laptop I was considering, I would face a simple question: This disk is not formatted. Would you like to format it?, followed by a yes/no click option.

The Mac was a few hundred dollars more than the PC. I remembered the lesson of Alitalia. I clicked Yes, and haven’t looked back.

2. Focus; learn when to say no.

Steven Levy of Wired wrote about Steve's comeback at Apple:
He ... simplified Apple’s product line to four computers — consumer and pro versions of desktop and laptop. “Focus does not mean saying yes, it means saying no,” he explained.
And here's another quote, this one from a conversation BusinessWeek Computer Editor Peter Burrows had with Steve in 2004. In that conversation, Steve was talking about where Apple's innovation comes from. He mentioned a number of things, including this:
And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We're always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.
And on Fast Company I found this story from Mark Parker, about his conversation with Steve when Parker was named CEO of Nike:
I said, "Well, do you have any advice?"

He said, "No, no, you're great." Then there was a pause. "Well, I do have some advice," he said. "Nike makes some of the best products in the world — products that you lust after, absolutely beautiful stunning products. But you also make a lot of crap."

He said, "Just get rid of the crappy stuff, and focus on the good stuff."

3. Be a perfectionist — but only on the things that matter.

Steve was well known for being demanding on Apple employees, insisting that every last detail on Apple products be outstanding. But I love this story from John Gruber:
After the WWDC keynote four months ago, I saw Steve, up close. ...

His sweater was well-worn, his jeans frayed at the cuffs.

But the thing that struck me were his shoes, those famous gray New Balance 993s. They too were well-worn. But also this: fresh bright green grass stains all over the heels. ...

Surely, my mind raced, surely he has more than one pair of those shoes. He could afford to buy the factory that made them. Why wear this grass-stained pair for the keynote, a rare and immeasurably high-profile public appearance? My guess: he didn’t notice, didn’t care. One of Jobs’s many gifts was that he knew what to give a shit about. He knew how to focus and prioritize his time and attention. Grass stains on his sneakers didn’t make the cut.

4. Spend your time wisely.

As Steve famously said in his Stanford commencement address:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.
And he also said:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, some day you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Steve made his choices right up to the end, according to a story by Charles Duhigg in the New York Times, which reads in part:
Over the last few months, a steady stream of visitors to Palo Alto, Calif., called an old friend’s home number and asked if he was well enough to entertain visitors, perhaps for the last time. ...

Most were intercepted by his wife, Laurene. She would apologetically explain that he was too tired to receive many visitors. ...

He had only so much energy for farewells. The man who valued his privacy almost as much as his ability to leave his mark on the world had decided whom he most needed to see before he left. ...

Mostly, he spent time with his wife and children. ...

As news of the seriousness of his illness became more widely known, Mr. Jobs was asked to attend farewell dinners and to accept various awards.

He turned down the offers. On the days that he was well enough to go to Apple’s offices, all he wanted afterward was to return home and have dinner with his family. When one acquaintance became too insistent on trying to send a gift to thank Mr. Jobs for his friendship, he was asked to stop calling. Mr. Jobs had other things to do before time ran out.


GraceAnn Stewart said...

Good snippets Jeri, He had great vision.

Lissanne / SORTED! said...

Thanks so much for this Jeri - so sorry you had to come home to such sad news.

I'm feeling your pain too - Apple has been the only choice in my entire family since the 1980's. Apple products are so much easier to drive (love the disk formatting example - hilarious!)

Steve Jobs death made me wish I'd written to him and thanked him before he died. He's allowed me to simplify my life for many years.

MarySees said...

Thanks for this wonderful post, Jeri! I am on my fourth Mac. I don't ever plan on buying anything else. I also enjoy listening to audio books on my iPod.

Steve Jobs was an amazing creative person! I loved how he got so excited when he introduced the new Apple products. He will be missed.

JustGail said...

Welcome back Jeri! That was a nice post regarding Steve Jobs, it's just too bad that it was the first thing you posted about on your return. Not complaining, just a comment on the timing of events.

So, any words of wisdom on making the leap from PC to Apple (or Android tablet)? I've been waffling for 2-3 years now, my PC is now 6 years old (!)and about due to be replaced - hopefully before it dies. It's decision time!

Jeri Dansky said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I spent more time writing this post than any other I can remember - because it was for Steve, and I wanted it to be just right.

GraceAnn: He sure did!

Lissanne and MarySees: I knew I had some Apple fans among my readers, who would feel as sad as I feel about Steve's passing.

JustGail: I made the PC to Apple leap pretty easily; Apple products just feel intuitive to me. Is there an Apple store anywhere near you where you can just go play with one?

That's what I did when I was considering moving from my non-smart phone to an iPhone. My prior phone was hard to use; even making a phone call was far from intuitive! I played with an iPhone for a half hour or more, and everything seemed so easy. I was hooked. Of course, I was already a Mac user and predisposed to like Apple products - but I was still amazed by the iPhone.

Also: I know some new Apple users who've found the classes held at the Apple stores to be useful, as well as the One to One program.

Margaret Lukens said...

Thank you for sharing this tribute - I feel it's an outstanding post. Steve Jobs did so much that was inspiring! I'm glad we can take the good lessons from his work and his life.

Jeri Dansky said...

Thanks for the kind words, Margaret. I've got a picture of Steve as my desktop wallpaper right now — a constant reminder to take those lessons and apply them.