by Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Like Steve Jobs, I grew up at a time when huge mainframe computers would fill entire rooms. The concept of having one’s own personal computer was unthinkable. In Palo Alto the future Silicon Valley where Jobs grew up, virtually everyone was an engineer or worked in electronics.[i] My dream from Grade 3 to Grade 10 was to be an electrical engineer like my father. I will never forget when my dad gave me my first microprocessor, replacing the old vacuum tubes. While completing my Masters in 1980, I submitted two papers written on the University of British Columbia mainframe. My professor commented that this was the first computer paper that he had ever read, but not likely his last.
In reading Walter Isaacson’s recent Steve Jobs biography, I was inspired to think about lessons that we might learn from Jobs’ life. Jobs was a world-changer, a revolutionary, and an artist. One of his maxims was “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.” Jobs once even hoisted a Jolly Roger flag with the eye patch being the Apple logo. He commented: “we were the renegades and we wanted people to know it.”[ii]
Jobs had a genius for creativity, innovation and excellence. ‘Good enough’ for Jobs was not good enough. He wanted people to stretch, to dream and to risk everything on the next technological breakthrough. Jobs said: “There’s an old Wayne Gretzsky quote that I love. I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”[iii] Curiosity and the joy of discovery propelled Jobs to imagine the unimaginable. Through Pixar, iPod, and iPhone, Jobs radically reshaped movies, music and phones. I remember the buzz of waiting in line at Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver for the iPhone 4. I was given the eighth of the eight phones delivered that day. A lady from the jewelry store rushed over and told me that this would change my life. It felt somewhat over the top but she proved to be right. Using my iPhone probably shaved about one to two years off my doctorate.
Jobs had a remarkable gift at integrating technology and beauty, science and art. Robert Palladino, a former monk teaching calligraphy at Reed College, radically shaped Jobs’ passion for design. Bill Gates once said: “I would give a lot to have Steve’s taste.”[iv]
Like his Microsoft rival Bill Gates, Jobs was a technological rock star. Eight times, he was on the cover of Time, over twelve times on the cover of Fortune, as well as the covers of Rolling Stone and Newsweek. Bono called Jobs the hardware/software Elvis.[v] Bill Gates once said: “Don’t you understand that Steve [Jobs] doesn’t know anything about technology? He’s just a super salesman… He doesn’t know anything about engineering and 99% of what he says and thinks is wrong….”[vi]
In the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, Jobs accused Gates of stealing ideas from Apple. Gates memorably responded: “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”[vii]
Ejected from his own company Apple, Jobs picked himself up and dusted himself off, going on to a stunning financial success with Pixar’s Toy Story movie. When Jobs returned to Apple, the company was very demoralized, just ninety days from bankruptcy. Jobs rallied the troops, insightfully saying: “Apple didn’t have to beat Microsoft. Apple had to remember who Apple was.”[viii]
Our greatest weaknesses are often hidden in our greatest strengths. Jobs’ passion for excellence often made him very painful to work with. Many of his personal and business relationships were unable to survive his aggressive zeal for innovation. Jobs’ ability to silently stare and then blow up at people allowed him to weed out unsuitable colleagues. Karen Blumenthal commented that “he could be both charming and gratingly abrasive, sensitive and stunningly mean-spirited.”[ix] Gates jokingly once said: “Steve is so known for his restraint.”[x] In some ways, he was a Samson figure, talented and tortured. At age 23, he abandoned his own child Lisa, denying his paternity, the same age that his birth parents gave him away. Only fourteen years later, after naming a computer after her, did Jobs bring Lisa back into his life.[xi]
Raised in church, Jobs described his becoming disenchanted when the pastor seemed callous about the suffering of African children. How sad that the pastor did not challenge Jobs to join him in making a practical difference in Africa. The malnutrition of African children doesn’t have to be that way. We can be Jesus’ hands and feet. Steve and his good friend Bill Fernandez spent many hours walking and discussing spiritual matters: “We were both interested in the spiritual side of things, the big questions: who are we? What is it all about? What does it mean?”[xii]
Perhaps one of the best influences in Jobs’ life was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Jobs and Wozniak’s partnership integrated the hippie and the nerd, bringing together vision and know-how. Without Wozniak, there would have been no Apple. Woz remarkably said that Jobs had been respectful to him on almost every occasion. Ronald Wayne, another Apple co-founder commented: “Wozniak was a fascinating guy, fun to be with and the most gracious guy I ever met.”[xiii] Steve Wozniak observed: “Although I never went to church, I was influenced occasionally by stories about Christian things; values like the idea of turning the other cheek. If somebody does something bad to you, you don’t fight back. You’re still good to them and treat them with love from your heart. Values of caring about the communities I grew up in, the schools that I went to, the cities I lived in; putting proper value on that. Values of respecting other people; not being a criminal or stealing.”[xiv] Woz embodied Jesus’ Golden rule to do unto others as we would have them do to us.
My ultimate lesson from the Apple co-founders is to be like Jobs in innovation while being like Woz in respecting people.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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[i] Steve Jobs: the last thing PBS movie, 1999.
[ii] Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, New York , NY, 2011) P. 144-145.
[iii] Anthony Imbimbo, Steve Jobs: the Brilliant Mind Behind Apple (Gareth Stevens Publishing, Pleasantville, NY, 2009) Steve Jobs: the last thing PBS movie, 1999, p. 97.
[iv] Steve Jobs: the last thing PBS movie, 1999
[v] Karen Blumenthal, Steve Jobs: the Man who thought different (Fiewel and Friends, New York, NY, 2012), p. 263, p. 278.
[vi] Isaacson, p. 302.
[vii] Andy Hertzfeld, A Rich Neighbor Named Xerox, November 1983 http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=A_Rich_Neighbor_Named_Xerox.txt (accessed Feb 10th 2014)
[viii] Steve Jobs: the last thing PBS movie, 1999.
[ix] Blumenthal, p. 2.
[x] Steve Jobs: the last thing PBS movie, 1999
[xi] Laura Collins, Daily Mail, UK, “Steve Job’s ex-lover’s book reveals Apple founder”, October 29th 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2478339/Steve-Jobs-ex-lovers-book-reveals-Apple-founder.html (accessed Feb 10th 2014)
[xii] Blumenthal, p. 13.
[xiii] Steve Jobs: the last thing PBS movie, 1999
[xiv] “An Interview with Steve Wozniak”, http://www.thetech.org/exhibits/online/revolution/wozniak/i_b.html (accessed Feb 10th 2014)