"Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."
These were Steve Jobs' last words, according to his sister, Mona Simpson. When I heard the words, I repeated them over and over to myself. There was a familiarity to them. Ah, yes! They were the same words I uttered every time I got my hands on one of the products Steve Jobs and his company Apple created.
My connection to Steve Jobs and Apple began in high school. I wasn't a jock or a popular kid. I was a creative type who camped out in the art wing and kinda ran the place. In 1992, my senior year, I convinced Ms. Carr, our lead art teacher, to purchase a Macintosh LC II for the department.
When the computer arrived, I intercepted the delivery guy in the hall so I could quietly squirrel the boxes away to the art room supply closet. There, I selfishly locked 'my Mac' away for the entire year. No one but me touched it.
From then on, I was a devoted Apple fan and Steve Jobs follower. At this very moment, I'm typing on a MacBook Pro, multi-touching an Apple Magic Trackpad, and staring at a gorgeous auxiliary 24'' Apple monitor. My iPhone 4 is safely in my pocket. My iPad is docked within touching distance.
This weekend, I read most of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. For almost two decades, I've been waiting for this insider account of the man and brand in which I've invested so much time, money, and trust.
As I devoured the book, I realized how tightly interlinked was this man and his company. You can barely speak about one without the other. Apple and its products are the pure, distilled expression of Steve's creativity and imagination.
The book has given me many insights and now in the final chapters, my impression of Steve Jobs is solidifying. Two thoughts about him continue to surface. One, I never want to be like Steve the man. And two, I want to be more like Steve the artist.
Assuming the portrait of Steve depicted by Isaacson is accurate, relationships were important to Steve, but not his focus. Some may say that to reach the heights he did, his zero tolerance for low quality performance and his devotion of endless hours to his projects were necessary.
Isaacson reported how Steve often 'embarrassed' and 'destroyed' coworkers and partners in meetings. He bellowed and barked his enraged dissatisfaction without restraint. Estranged family and friends, who clearly came second, seemed to be acceptable losses in his crusade to create the world's best lifestyle products. Ironic in a way.
Because I measure fulfillment and success by depth of human relationships, I don't wish to model myself after Steve Jobs the man as described in his biography. I think it's unconscionable to trade relationship commitments for material investments, no matter how magical.
Steve's passion was not making money. It was creating art. His companies and products were the pure expression of his ideas and ideals. In creating his art, he compromised nothing. The combination of his creative brilliance, passionate zeal, and tireless dedication is why people invested in him, followed him, purchased from him, worked for him, and... put up with him. It's the most significant reason Apple is the top brand and company (some days) in the world.
Many business people have no problem compromising their ideas or ideals. A little discomfort or fear is all it takes. When the threat of failure, instability, or a strong personality comes along, they drop their passion and run. When an opportunity or risk that ignites their imagination appears, they shy away. I know far too many who have lost their way and the richness of life to passionless, safe jobs and careers.
I believe everyone is capable of art - teachers, salespeople, landscapers, attorneys, mothers, and janitors. The work of our minds and hands when dedicated to our constructive passions is our art. Steve refused to compromise his passion and vision. He was a true artist of highest form.
I'm 37. At best, my life is about half over. (Though my dad is 86, so I may have a little longer.) When it comes time to utter my 'oh wows,' I hope to be like Steve - with my family in my home. Reading Isaacson's biography of Apple's CEO has inspired me to rededicate my remaining days to two pursuits - investing without compromise in my friends and family and my own personal art.
As I ponder the thoughts above and close in on the final chapters of the biography, one question remains. Is it possible to reach the phenomenal artistic success Steve Jobs attained without great relationship sacrifice and aggressive, brash control?
I think so.
How 'bout you?