DEATH is the “single best invention of Life,” Steve Jobs told graduates of Stanford University in 2005. It is life’s change agent, clearing out the old to make way for the new, he said in his commencement speech that regained popularity online with his resignation last week as Apple chief executive officer over medical reasons.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
Jobs said that starting at 17, he’d look in the mirror every morning and asked himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
That question, however, became more than rhetorical when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004 and underwent surgery. He was fine for a while but needed a liver transplant, which he had in 2009. He had been on medical leave since January.
Change the world
Jobs is a rare business leader, a singular phenomenon of a generation. He founded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976 and successfully built the company that when it went public in 1980, it was the largest initial public offering since Ford in 1965, according to the book “Founders at Work.”
He left Apple after an internal struggle with John Sculley, a former Pepsi executive he recruited with the line, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Jobs said the “devastating” episode of being kicked out of the company he started was “an awful-tasting medicine” that he needed. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything.”
Jobs said he thought of leaving Silicon Valley after the debacle but decided to start again after finding out that he still loved what he did.
“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
He started NeXT Computer, which was later bought by Apple and paved the way for his return to the company, and Pixar. When he returned to Apple, Jobs said the company was 90 days away from going bankrupt.
When asked what he felt when Apple surpassed Microsoft in market valuation during the All Things Digital Conference last year, Jobs said it was surreal “but it doesn’t matter very much. It’s not what’s important. It’s not what makes you come to work in the morning. It’s not why any of our customers buy our products.”
Jobs epitomizes passion and perfectionism. Although described as an egomaniac who is tyrannical in dealing with employees, no one can dispute the unprecedented innovation to come out from Apple. Jobs caused repeated multi-industry changes with the iPod, iPhone and lately, the iPad. Any one of those products would have been enough to cement one’s legacy.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Many are wondering whether in the long term, Apple would continue to be as innovative without Jobs. The question isn’t on the short term, products take years to develop and Apple apparently has enough in the pipeline to satisfy its faithful for the coming years. The question is whether Apple can sustain its innovation without its visionary-in-chief. To that, John Gruber of Daring Fireball has an answer, “Jobs’ greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.” The company has innovation in its DNA.
In his 2005 address, Jobs ended with a quote from the last issue of The Whole Earth Catalog. It was a quote that said he always wished for himself and wanted to share with the graduates. It is a quote that sums up the drive for innovation.
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”