Last week at frog we kicked off our new book club with a discussion of the Steve Jobs Biography by Walter Isaacson. The main theme of the conversation was, “I’m not Steve Jobs and you’re not Steve Jobs, so what can we learn from Steve Jobs”. We went from there and discussed Steve’s personality, his reality distortion, his uncanny ability to predict the needs of consumers, and how these aspects of his very public life have influenced the design community and frog specifically. These are some of the gems that I found in, or from, the conversation, either because they are directly applicable to my career as a designer or because they touch the part of me that is passionate about quality, genuineness and discovering passion in all areas of my life.
What is Genius?
Steve was a very passionate, emotional person. Was he a genius? He had a deep intuition about many things of which he had little or no formal training: typography, iconography, accessibility, graphical user interfaces, metaphors that connect humans with computer technology, and…the future. His ability to focus on the key aspects or features of an idea allowed him to ignore all things superfluous and inspire a deep drive to create in his teams. His honesty (and at times, lazy dishonesty) about project developments always drove his employees to work harder, to try to achieve the impossible. On one hand Steve could muster up every scrap of creativity and skill in his employees with one of his pep talks, but he also had a knack for recognizing people’s weaknesses and would exploit them with extremely damaging words. He was emotional and sensitive, brazen and egomaniacal. Some suspect he was also a classic narcissist. But was he a genius? Or did he just put it all out there and stick to his convictions?
Fail Early and Often
Steve wasn’t only successful. He experienced several huge failures early on at Apple, then at NeXT and nearly with Pixar, and countless business reviews doomed Apple to fail in the end. But he never gave up, even against severe odds, and shortly after his death we see Apple as the one of the most valuable companies in history as well as the number one computer manufacturer in the US, finally surpassing Microsoft after 20+ years. Some designers – including myself – were taught to fail early, fail often. To iterate quickly and collaboratively filter through as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time, in an effort to eliminate the unfeasible options while the process is still inexpensive, instead of waiting to make critical changes later when the cost of time or materials become more and more expensive. I’m learning that this isn’t just a bit of design theory, this is a way of life. To be willing to make mistakes and move on while the ideas are still fresh, while energy still abounds, while I’m still flexible/young/mindful and I’m not too deeply invested in one idea, one way of life. The idea of failing early and often may sound negative to some. To me it means get comfortable with being a work in progress. Mistakes will be made but nothing is broken. I will pick up the pieces of my failed experiments and from them I will make something better. And learning from the change will create a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s potential.
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