I don't like telling people what I'm all about. What invigorates me, what inspires me, what disgusts me and what affects me. Neither do I have the patience nor the conceit that I am interesting enough. But today, I feel a need to talk about what Steve means to me. I didn't really understand or mourn his death because he doesn't mean anything as a person. He's just an idea in my head. Something that exists only as long as I have the whim for it. Despite talking long and hard about Steve, I haven't really heard him speak a lot like some other devotees do. I don't use even one Apple product and I really cannot understand what he means when he talks about Microsoft not having taste. Inspite of this, I adore Steve Jobs. After accidentally coming across his landmark Stanford Commencement Speech about four years ago, I googled him out of the same curiosity as I google everything I come across. I read about him, I heard him and I was ready to launch a self-issued, solo 'Steve Jobs is God' propaganda. Looking back, I was 17, I was lost, I was arty, I was deep into philosophy and I loved Zen. For about two years, Steve was huge. And then he fell into doldrums. True, I spoke about him now and then but the manic energy was gone. And on 6 October, Raghav called me at 0600 hours IST and the first thing he said, "Arey, me odu poyadanta?". I was half -asleep but I knew 'me odu' meant only one person. I wasn't following him as diligently as I had been earlier, so I didn't have a lot of news about the cancer issue. Everything came back about a week ago when I downloaded his new autobiography, Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, and started reading it.
And for the first time in years, I understood a lot about him in a week than I hadn't earlier in months. A sign of maturity. He was self-righteous, arrogant, rude, mean and an asshole. But he still is my God.
1. Simple/Higher Purpose
Look at any Apple product and if there's one thing that strikes you right away, it is it's almost Zen like simplicity. Steve loved Zen, Buddhist Philosophy and that simplicity, starkness and attention to detail shines in every Apple product that he created. Its the greatest blend of functionality and aesthetics and Steve's, "If a kid cannot figure out how to use the product in 2 minutes, its a goner", rings very familiar to his idol Einstein's, "If you cannot explain it to a 6 year old, you don't really understand it." And Steve Jobs didn't make products or forge a company to grow rich. He believed there was a higher purpose to one's life and his was to make the world a better place by telling people how beautiful and useful technology could really be.
It was Steve's stellar intensity that separated him from everybody else. His passion for the product he created, his obsession to detail, his almost child like excitement when talking about his products and his curiosity when dealing with anything that interests him are contagious. He vied for the impossible, strived to make it happen and pushed everybody else around him to make it happen. Everything that he ever created wouldn't have happened without him. True, he never made anything. He just pushed his engineers and designers around, yelling at them, abusing them and belittling them. But he had an amazing eye for talent and where he knew something was doable, he blasted away all excuses. His passion for the end product, his vision about how it would change the world and his belief that it would turn insanely great spurred engineers and designers to overwork and proudly wear t-shirts claiming, "90 hours a week and still loving it."
If Steve Jobs was hellbent on getting something done, he didn't care about anything else. So unrelenting was his focus that he could push away all distractions to encounter the situation at hand. His intense discipline, his quest for things to be right and his zeal to attain perfection all stemmed from his Zen ability to focus on something so intensely, that it had to happen. His notion that things have to be right, neither superfluous nor wanting, had the company push the reset button on a lot of products a lot of times. He postponed the dates of release of Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone for reasons as trivial as, "I'm not sure if the glass casing is right." His need to make things right might have cost the company a lot of time but that is what Apple stands for today. Trust.
One thing that any person who's ever spoken to Steve would talk about is his charisma. He was the true charmer, the media dream and the country's poster boy. He could summon the right line at the right time, conveniently push away the topics he wasn't comfortable with and could cultivate such a force of drive in people that they would seem less like engineers and more like crusaders waging a holy war. His talks to Apple employees that they were artists and were truly changing the world, really did instill in all those geeky engineers a sense of worth, belief and cause. He made them understand that they weren't making boxes. They were making art and were as good as a Picasso or a Bach. Oh! boy, if that won't turn people into your devotess, what else will.
There's a really old saying about Steve that 'Steve Jobs does his market research by looking at himself in the mirror.' If there's one trait in him that catapulted him into fame as a rock star, a guru, a genius, and a youth icon, despite the youth being usually anti-capitalist, it was because he didn't care. He didn't care about what the world was like, didn't care about others' ideas if he thought they were bozos and didn't care about convention. All he cared about was himself, all he listened to was the people he respected and all he lived in was Steve's Reality Distortion Field where he could accomplish anything he willed. He had huge successes not because he predicted what people liked but figured out what he liked, "If I design a product I wouldn't want to use, I know nobody would want to use it either." He knew he was special, different and gifted and this firm belief in himself made him challenge conventions. And if there's really one thing that defines him, then its his trust in instinct. His belief that art touches people somewhere deep within.
When I look back at all this and think of Steve, I see him in his spartan bungalow sitting on the wooden floor, his piercing gaze in his black and white portraits, his obsession with all things vegan, his habit of taking people out for long walks and his wonderful speech after his return to Apple. Everything so Steve. I don't know if he's really made as big a dent in the universe as he wanted to, but he's made a huge dent in my life.
For that and everything else, thank you Steve.