I have never found idolizing people to be very useful. I don’t want to suggest that Steve Jobs shouldn’t be recognized for his accomplishments, on the contrary, I think his legacy should be celebrated, but I also think recognizing someone’s talent and idolizing him are two slightly different things.
There seem to be two traps people fall into by idolizing the likes of Steve Jobs: they become so enraptured that they give up all hope of ever doing anything significant, or they try to be exactly like him in order to replicate his success. Neither reaction is very productive. Giving up on innovation because someone else is a master seems silly, and trying to beat Jobs at his own game is utterly nonsensical – even an exceptional amount of effort to yield dismal returns.
I think the most important lessons we can learn from Jobs are not about computers or even about the logistics of managing a company, they are about having a mindset that gives rise to innovation. He said in a commencement address at Stanford University:
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 because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something you lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
What I find most interesting is the part about not having anything to lose because at one point, it seemed like his vision actually did cause him to lose everything – when he was fired from Apple in 1985. Getting the boot from the company he spent ten years building from scratch seems like a huge thing to lose – and it was for him at the time – but during his hiatus from Apple, he started Pixar and a company called Next, which ended up developing much of the foundational technology for Apple’s current systems.
Cliché statements like “follow your heart” and “live each day as if it is your last” are always floating around, but how often do people truly live by them? People tend to disavow their ideas because they’re afraid of what they could lose by following through with them. But if today really was your last day on earth would you rather be stuck doing something tolerable yet safe or would you rather be pursuing an idea you were excited about? Could losing something that is preventing you from doing what you’re passionate about really be that bad? It could actually lead you on to bigger and better things – or at least things that make you happier overall.
The point is, you don’t have to be at a company like Apple in order to be creative. You probably don’t even need some large scale innovation plan. It may be as simple as trusting the instincts you usually stifle. But thinking outside the box gets you fired from your job, I recommend this post from GOOD.