Steve Jobs – Living Outside the Box

Although it is very sad that the iconic Apple founder and leader has had to step down to focus on his health, it is inspiring to see such courage and grace in the face of incredible personal adversity.  As most are aware, Steve Jobs has battled pancreatic cancer since 2004.It is likely that his health decline forced his resignation.

Words like genius, visionary, icon, leader, and fanatic are some of the terms used to describe Steve, and they’re all great descriptions. A quick look at Steve’s early years all the way up through the release of the iPad shows how this iconic thinker has repeatedly set the tone for disruptive technological change.  His secret comes from his ability to connect with people on a human level by combining innovative technology in the supporting role (it just works) with stunning and thoughtful visual, tactile, and intuitive design (no beige boxes). He has always bucked the trend by thinking outside of the box. And although he admits that sometimes he felt scared, he believed in and loved what he did. As it turns out, that has made all of the difference.

So, was it all those science and math classes he sat through in school? First of all, Steve never completed college.  He dropped out after just one semester.  Secondly, Steve publicly acknowledges that “technology” isn’t what drives his success.  His philosophy is to integrate technology through human-centric design.  This sounds like a logical perspective, but in the maddening “race to the top”, every political pundit and business person turned education expert is yacking  about STEM while Steve thinks in terms of S.T.E.A.M.  Steve is an advocate for marrying the arts and humanities.  From SeattlePi,

it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

Consider how a single person, Steve Jobs, has profoundly changed the world. Steve’s S.T.E.A.M  (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) thinking has consistently contributed to massive disruptive technological change for several decades:

1985 Steve is responsible for NeXT computers, the system that allowed Tim Berners-Lee to create the first web browser and web server at CERN in 1991. The  WYSIWYG browsing/authoring interface enabled interaction with the internet as never before.

1986 Steve created Pixar, the most successful animation company on the planet. Steve transformed the company from high-end computer graphics hardware creator to an animation feature film company of amazing critical acclaim. Again, Steve transformed a “techie” company with limited success by humanizing it–putting the technology in the supporting role.

1996 Steve’s creates  NeXT computer operating system.

2001 NeXT becomes OS X, the current operating system now used by all Apple computers.

2001 Apple introduces the iPod and quickly reimagined podcasting, becoming the dominant mp3 player by rapidly changing the way people listen to music.

2007 The iPhone unleashed the multi-touch screen and disrupted the cell phone, education, gaming, and many other industries.  Before 2007, there were no multi-touch devices.  Now, all major phone makers have a copycat device.

2010 The iPad yet again disrupted an industry.  The PC industry is rapidly declining in the U.S. because of the iPad and copycat tablet devices.

So, as we “race to the top”, let’s ensure we’re not axing the humanities programs to increase math drills.  Imagine creating a learning atmosphere that encourages more Steve Jobs-type thinking. Although the Steve Jobs era will some day end, his philosophy and legacy  will always remind us to embrace the arts and humanities as the greatest expression of our humanness.  Music and calligraphy dramatically influenced Steve, not chemistry and algebra. Let’s harness the amazing creative potential within us that ultimately changes the world. Let us strive to create excitement and engagement around children’s passions.  Let us be sure that technology is central to everything, but not in isolation from or at the expense of the very essence of our humanness.


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