[HyperLearning Lens] Steve Jobs: Developing Genius
APPLE FOUNDER STEVE JOBS IS A CASE STUDY IN GENIUS, and he is well worth looking at, because he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room – and most of us aren’t. But the qualities of genius he exemplified are things we can adapt in our own lives, and as we look at how to engage HyperLearning (watch my free 90-minute HyperLearning Presentation here) Steve is particularly noteworthy and cool.
In his 56 years, Jobs revolutionized home computing, the movie industry (with Pixar Studios), the music industry (with the iPod and iTunes), tablet computing (the iPad), the mobile phone industry (the iPhone)… Had it not been for pancreatic cancer prematurely ending his life, Steve would most certainly have gone on creating integrated, visionary products at the leading edge for several more decades.
So in this post, I wanted to take a look at some of the defining qualities of Steve’s genius, and how anyone can cultivate some of his best attributes into their own life for better learning, creativity, and depth of meaning in one’s life endeavors.
In the last two days I just read – and re-read Steve Jobs, the authorized biography by Walter Isaacson. It is a superb portrait of a lifelong learner who was uncompromising in his dedication to the creative pursuit of aesthetically pleasing technology that actually improved, encouraged, and beautified the life of anyone who used and applied it to their own life’s endeavors.
In their iconic “Think Different” campaign, Jobs and his team at Apple summed up their dedication to the leading edge:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
So what made Steve Jobs a crazy rebel genius? Here’s what I found.
IMPERMANENCE SHARPENS THE MIND
Steve knew he would not live forever… way before he found out he had pancreatic cancer. This understanding was encouraged by his study of Buddhism, which teaches that one of the most profound practices of insight about the meaning and purpose – and preciousness – of life can be derived from contemplating the very real and everpresent nature of the impermanence of life in all its forms.
Steve knew this and made the most of his time. Here he is speaking about this very thing in his commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University:
(watch the whole thing… it’s absolutely worth it)
The bottom line: you don’t have forever. Don’t waste your life (turn off the T.V.). Whatever you feel like you were/are here to do, get to it. When you are feeling unmotivated, think about how short your life is, and what the story is that you want to tell about it as it draws to a close.
To further this line of understanding, read “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca. It will kick your ass into gear, most assuredly. It is one of the best things I have ever, ever read.
FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION
There will always be some pesky reality, person, or group that will tell you what you are trying to accomplish (or what you are passionate about) is risky, a waste of time, not worth it, or that you just can’t do it. You may be told that no one will want what you have to offer.
Steve Jobs decided not to listen to those voices… even when hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake, which included the livelihood of many people at Apple and beyond.
Case in point: the creation and release of the Macintosh computer in 1984. Perhaps you had one of those beauties. No one could have pulled it off but Jobs. From Steve Jobs:
“…[no one] at the company could have pulled off the creation of the Macintosh. Nor would it likely have emerged from focus groups and committees. On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked jobs what kind of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”
Jobs also knew that thinking too much about the world’s expectations would limit his own creativity – because most people don’t think creatively too far ahead – and that is where Jobs wanted to be. He writes:
“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘ ‘A faster horse!’ ‘ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Genius follows its own bliss, and the rest will follow – or not. But what the world may or may not think isn’t the driving force of discovery and creativity. It is your passion, your daemon. You wouldn’t do anything else. This approach is mirrored by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his Power of Myth series with Bill Moyers:
BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
This cosmic favoring of following your bliss is mirrored by Terrance McKenna:
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering its a feather bed.”
What are you passionate about that requires some courage in devoting your time to it? Think about it. What good things have you devoted your time to in the past, not knowing the outcome, but certain that if the present was worthwhile, the results down the road would be, as well?
COMPASSION AND VALUING OTHERS DRIVES BIG PICTURE
“One day Jobs came into the cubicle of Larry Kenyon, an engineer who was working on the Macintosh operating system, and complained that it was taking too long to boot up. Kenyon started to explain, but Jobs cut him off. ‘If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave 10 seconds off the boot time?’ he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if there were five million people using the Mac, and it took ten seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to three hundred million or so hours per year that people would save, which was the equivalent of at least one hundred lifetimes saved per year. ‘Larry was suitably impressed, and a few weeks later he came back and it booted up twenty-eight seconds faster,’ Atkinson recalled. ‘Steve had a way of motivating by looking at the bigger picture.’ “
In high school, I had a friend – a very lovable cynic – that asked me what I hoped to do in my life, given that just merely living caused suffering for others through the use of natural resources, etc. I answered that I hoped that my life would benefit more people and beings than it harmed or inconvenienced, and I think with projects like Juice Feasting, Vitamin B12 Exposed, There is a Cure for Diabetes, and HyperLearning: A Revolutionary Approach, that it already has.
You don’t have to change the whole world like Steve Jobs did… look at what good you can do, how you can develop yourself or an idea or project that will benefit a dozen people, or a few hundred people, and do that. It is that kind of intention behind the energy of your life that cultivates genius – whether it is of the magnitude of Steve Jobs or not is a process of discovery.
VISION LOGIC: INTEGRATING “THE KNOWN” IN NOVEL NEW WAYS
“… He didn’t invent many things outright, but he was a master at putting together ideas, art, and technology in ways that invented the future. He designed the Mac after appreciating the power of graphic interfaces in a way that Xerox was unable to do, and he created the iPod after grasping the joy of having a thousand songs in your pocket in a way that Sony, which had all the assets and heritage, never could accomplish. Some leaders push innovation by being good at the big picture.” (Steve Jobs, 565)
“Vision-Logic” is a term in cognitive development circles, used to designate the ability to take a big-picture view across a wide range of disciplines. Vision-Logic is also the capacity to put two or more things together that create something entirely new.
For example – it may not seem like a big deal to you looking at this readable font right now – but when Steve Jobs came out with the Macintosh in 1984, his computer was the first to use a typeface – a font. Prior to that, it was the black screen with green ugly letters on it. Yuck. And how did Jobs do it?
He took an elective course in typography and fonts at Reed College – having no idea what he would do with the information he was excitedly acquiring about elegant typefaces. Years later when he was developing the Macintosh, he decided to use that knowledge about typefaces and apply it to the way we read text on a home computer. That application of two diverse fields – typography and computer technology (which again, may seem obvious now) was Vision-Logic at work.
“What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language of mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how–because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.” (Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, 570)
What does this mean for us? If you have an interest – even if it does not seem to connect with anything else you are doing in your life – if it is your passion, dive in. In fact, it may be even more important to learn about if it has nothing to do with the other elements of your life – because when you do figure out how it connects, something new and amazing may be developed.
Finally, learning about a wide variety of things wards off Alzheimer’s – which you can view basically as a shutting down of streets, roads, and highways (your neural pathways) in your mind. Learning new things is akin to constantly building new roads and highways, so that even if some parts of your neural pathways shut down in your brain, new ones are constantly being opened up by learning about and doing what you are passionate about at this point in your life. Which brings us to the next point about Genius…
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
“The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter. The Zune [a portable music device] was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do. We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.” (Steve Jobs, pg 407)
Jobs let passion drive his work – not profit or trying to recreate what others had already done. Geniuses are fools. They go for what drives them emotionally – and oftentimes throw caution and immediate rational “realities” to the wind in pursuit of what gives their life meaning. It takes balls. Mythologist Joseph Campbell was asked how long one should invest in following their bliss, and he said it could take as much as 10 years.
But if you don’t follow your bliss, your genius – and that of those who might support you – won’t really come out. I am reminded of Anthony Robbins’ TED Talk in 2007, “Why We Do What We Do”
This has been my path. I do what I am passionate about, and in the last 8 years that has been Juice Feasting. It took me three years of financial hardship and professional frustration to come up with the name, conceive the site, develop the 92-Day Program, and launch Juice Feasting to the world. It wasn’t easy, but as of this year, well over 100,000 people have learned about Juice Feasting. My passion about healing in service to each person’s unique life purpose is paying off for everyone. Genius? I’ll let you decide. I like to think that Juice Feasting opens up dormant potentials – including genius – for everyone who engages it as a Life Practice.
GENIUS IS ALIVE
“You always have to keep pushing to innovate. Dylan could have sung protest songs forever and probably made a lot of money, but he didn’t. He had to move on, and when he did, by going electric in 1965, he alienated a lot of people. His 1966 Europe tour was his greatest. He would come on and do a set of acoustic guitar, and the audiences loved him. Then he brought out what became The Band, and they would all do an electric set, and the audience sometimes booed. There was one point when he was about to sing ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and someone from the audience yells, ‘Judas!’ And Dylan then says, ‘Play it fucking loud!’ And they did. The Beatles were the same way. They kept evolving, moving, refining their art. That’s what I’ve always tried to do – keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.” (Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, pg 570)
Developmental research has shown that most people go through five or six major stages of development by the age of 25, and after that, development largely grinds to a halt until the age of 60-65. Why?
Understandably, we are busy raising kids, keeping the career, the house, the kids happy and alive (every day is a triumph, right parents?), and one’s relationship intact to hold it all together. While we do change, their is not a great deal of revolutionary growth between 25 and 65, as the demands of life require us to just hold on to some semblance of stability.
But you can decide otherwise during these years, and I think the orientation of genius is to never have an idea of a final resting place in any aspect of your life. The evolutionary imperative is to keep growing into new, higher, wider, deeper capacities and ways of being that require us to let go of previously held beliefs, habits, relationships, places, and activities in favor of constantly growing into even better ones. It requires you to prefer growth and new discovery – even when it asks you to let go of where you are – over stasis, plateauing, and becoming obsolete in your ways of thinking and being.
It’s tough. Particularly with the “American Dream” of landing the permanencies of house, car, job, relationships, diet, health, ideas, political affiliations, brand identities, etc. But what you find is that stasis is boring as hell – and there are ways of cultivating enough structure in your life to support the novel, creative, post-structural new ways of being and thinking in your life that don’t have to listen to the everyday… many geniuses work – or worked – their 9-5 during the day, and pursue not the latest episode of Survivor, but the next chapter of a book they are reading or project they are developing.
My (David R.) overall life orientation in this regard is to constantly crave better answers, and greater capacities for self-expression and helping others. I love solutions and a more full and capable understanding of life and how we can make it better. And as new problems and challenges arise in my own life, and that of the world, fresh new ideas and perspectives are required to meet the demands. So I keep reading, considering, and talking with the best people I can find, and that keeps me alive and growing.
Who are the most exciting and cutting-edge people in your life? What ideas – in books, film, the internet… are driving your interest or imagination? Would you like to dial them up more? I say go for it. What else is there to do?
GENIUS: WHERE IS IT?
“Was he smart? No not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was, indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power. Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead.” (Steve Jobs, 566)
We have been misled. The geniuses of our high school and college days were the “top tens,” the “magna cum laudes,” academic decathlon and MENSA nerds – the kids who got into Ivy League schools and topped out their SAT, MCAT, and GRE scores. And its bullshit. Smart is smart – and we need smart people. But “smart” does not confer genius – and often the world invites smart people to be anything but creative geniuses.
Genius is not the sole realm of grades, scores, rankings, and placements, and Steve Jobs is evidence of that truth. Genius is a sparkling – and sometimes crazy – blend of vision, compassion, creativity, faith, drive, and often post-rational insights derived from perspectives that lie far beyond personal, present-moment, rational considerations and viewpoints.
Genius holds more of the kosmos – not for grades or the world’s praise – but because it seeks something new, novel, higher, wider, deeper, and more capable that that which went before in whatever domain(s) it operates in, be it art, morals, science, politics, religion, sex, agriculture, health, philosophy, computer technology…
In future posts we will look at many geniuses throughout human history from cultures around the world, seeking to incorporate their greatest qualities as geniuses into our own lives, in pursuit of our own self-actualization, and ultimately, the self-transcendent expressions of our lives in service to the Kosmos at large.
If this interests you, and you want to light your mind on fire, check out my free 90-minute HyperLearning Webinar here:
I have invested my life incorporating the Life Practices of Genius… The HyperLearning Course is my magnum opus on how to do it. Enjoy.