October 11, 2011

Thanks Steve

As I dashed through the door of Whole Foods Market in Palo Alto for a bite to eat, a bearded guy stepped on the heel of my shoe. I looked up to meet the man’s gaze and realized that it was Steve Jobs. He said, “Pardon me.” I said, “No problem,” and we both moved on. We only crossed paths on one other occasion. It was early one Saturday morning. I’d taken my daughter to a local park. Steve was also there on “dad duty”. No words were exchanged; we simply enjoyed our kids while entertaining our private thoughts.

It’s nearly impossible to live in Silicon Valley and not be privy to Steve Jobs stories—how great the man was, how difficult he could be. Like so many people in our industry and around the world, I feel his death as a personal loss even though I never formally met the man. Perhaps his influence on my own career explains this personalization of the loss. Long before I stepped foot on peninsula soil, my college roommate and I drove down from Providence, Rhode Island on an exciting excursion: to see the new Mac. It was like nothing anyone had done before. It broke the rules. What a turn on! Shortly thereafter, I took a job at a small Mac software company that was eventually acquired by Claris. The next thing I knew, I was pulling up my east coast roots and moving to California.

Remembered as much for his iconic presence as for the remarkable role model he was and is, Steve Jobs showed me — and all of us — an inspiring way to live. A way that trumps setbacks and small thinking. A way that leads with the heart and pursues wild dreams. A way that proves the value of staying on course, true to one’s vision. A way that shows how clear, critical thinking is absolutely key to innovation and creativity. Steve proved that the desire to build something great was a revolutionary act that could turn the world’s head and make it a better place. He also showed us about tenacity, about looking beyond the next quarter or the next year into a future that only emerges when failure is not an option.

Steve showed us that being down or even out doesn’t have to stop you from moving forward and taking what comes, for better or worse, in terms of public and private opinion. Steve did what he believed in, even when detractors and critics reviled him. His was a truly visionary eye, one not easily blinded by ups and downs. Daily stock prices? Who cares when you really feel you’re the coolest dude on the planet? I suspect that Apple rose to being the world’s most valuable company as a result, not as a goal. Steve’s leadership made that possible. I also suspect that what mattered to him most was creating things that pushed the envelope. Personally, what I’ll always remember most is a comment he made about the heaviness of success and the lightness of being a beginner. Would that we could all remember to look at the world fresh every day. It’s a great way to live and a smart way to do business. I’ll hold onto that thought in my memory of Steve.