Today there was this thing by The Onion called “The Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies.”
Although The Onion is devoted to satire, this little piece wasn’t really satiric. It was supposed to be, I’m sure, but it sounded like hard reality.
What it said that resonated for me was that Jobs was the last American who was able to 1. Sit down. 2. Think clearly and 3. Execute his ideas.
At the beginning of the summer I made this rather ambitious reading list, and wound up reading virtually nothing on it. Instead, for some reason, I decided to read Ayn Rand,. (Even though I was a Lit major in college, I had never read Rand.)
I started with Atlas Shrugged and then went immediately into The Fountainhead. Everyone I know was appalled that I was wasting my time reading Rand in the first place, and then doubly appalled that that I was actually enjoying her.
Nobody, and I mean none of my peers approved of Rand. But I loved her. (And I still do.) I know I probably shouldn’t love her, because I am a flaming liberal who doesn’t believe that (gravity notwithstanding), nothing really trickles down from the pockets of the rich.
What I do not understand is how Rand became the darling of the Tea Partiers and all the political groups that I find totally repugnant. I think a lot of people misinterpret her.
The whole time I was reading Atlas, all I could think of was Steve Jobs as the present day embodiment of the Randian hero.
Steve Jobs is Dagny Taggart, Hank Reardon, John Galt and Howard Roark all wrapped into one. Steve Jobs is to Apple computers what Dagny Taggart was to Taggart Transcontinental, what Hank Reardon was to Reardon Metal, and what Howard Roark was to the whole field of architecture.
What Jobs had in common with all of Rand’s heros is that he was passionate about, and lived and breathed his work. His work was who he was, his identity. He wasn’t in it just for the money (but he made a lot of it). He didn’t give his money away, either, nor did he apologize for making a lot of it (And this is where a lot of liberals part ways with Rand, and where Jobs, too, finds his critics.)
USA Today, in its first piece on Jobs’ death, called him “mercurial” and said he could be merciless on people he didn’t think were doing their jobs, not simply firing them, but railing and ranting at them, cursing them out. My guess is he probably could not bear to see incompetence or laziness in any form.
He worked for what he earned. And his work was pure and noble and innovative. He did it for its own sake. His work and his life were the same thing. That’s what it means to live in integrity: think, feel, say, do–all the same thing. The creative process drove him. It was his prime motivator. In that, he was just like Dagny Taggart and and Hank Reardon and Howard Roark.
He was clean. He wasn’t a fake or a hack. He earned it. He wasn’t a second-hander. He wasn’t a parasite. He never had his hand out, but offered the fruits of his work for the betterment of his consumers. Without him we would still, to this day, be playing with sticks and abacuses and adjusting the vertical holds on our tv antennas instead of storing our music in the Cloud.
So when I read that Onion piece, it really reminded me of the three things I admire and strive for in my own work. First, the ability to sit down. Sitting down in this context implies clearing the slate for creative work. Jobs was a Buddhist. He probably knew something about the power of “taking one’s seat” and being quiet, and letting the mind settle into its innate freedom.
He also knew how to “think clearly.” A unique skill in itself. A skill that needs to be cultivated and honed over years and decades. Mostly in silence. Like practicing any art.
And finally, and most importantly for me, he knew how to execute. Or as Seth Godin would say, he knew how to “Ship.” Unless your ideas can be birthed into the world, they lie stillborn inside you, rotting, and putrifying your system.
I wanted Steve Jobs to live for a long time because I wanted to watch and learn from him. I wanted to see what kind of rabbit he would pull out of his hat next. It is sad that one of the only true innovators of our time had to die so young.
As another quote I read today said: “Heaven just got a little more sleek, well-designed and profitable.”
RIP, Steve Jobs. I, and the world, will miss you.