Yesterday, one of the most creative people in our lifetime, Steve Jobs, passed away.
On the way home from work, I met a musician and we shared a small conversation that quickly became a â€˜where were youâ€™ sort of talk. My friend told me about his first Apple on which he wrote music, and I told him how the original iMac and iBook helped me learn how to make movies and cool slideshows.
Iâ€™m writing this on a Macbook Pro. I will later process photos to accompany this article on an iMac while listening to tunes on an iPod, and Iâ€™ll check the layout for mobile devices using an iPad and an iPhone. My creative life is surrounded by things that have bits in them that were thought up in Steve Jobsâ€™ mind.
When someone iConic passes on, thereâ€™s a melancholic reflection that hits hard.
But itâ€™s also necessary. After all, the great ones are the ones that pass on a legacy we have to pay attention to. Dreams are contagious, and inspiring. So here is my humble tribute to a great visionary. The man who taught us to â€˜think different.â€™
1. â€œWe donâ€™t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And weâ€™ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”
This is especially meaningful in a period of recession, when the commissions you might get as a photographer are few and far between. Staying true to your vision is even more important in the lean times because thatâ€™s when you might doubt yourself and your choices. If you emerge from a dearth of commissions with your vision uncompromised, its integrity will give you work that is meaningful and beautiful, too.
2. â€œBe a yardstick of quality. Some people arenâ€™t used to an environment where excellence is expected.â€
Raising the bar every time you do something new is something that Steve Jobs has taught us in a very visible way. When naysayers were telling him he couldnâ€™t make a phone that didnâ€™t have buttons, he just went ahead and did it and now itâ€™s the best selling phone in the world, and itâ€™s changed the way we use phones.
3. â€œDesign is not just how it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.â€
Having a design mindset is something thatâ€™s evolved recently, as more and more people churn out original content that others can see, hear and use. The technology that Steve Jobs helped to put out there made it easier to make indy stuffâ€”things like calendars on iPhoto, videos on iMovie. This shift in how we thoughtâ€”from consumers to creatorsâ€”was something that Jobsâ€™ vision helped to teach people.
All the neat stuff we share with each other is all about design now. Think about how we learn photo technique on our own: Youtube videos, podcasts, and apps are some of the more common tools. Not only are our tools products of this type of design thinking, but we are also more critical of functionality. I have always liked the ergonomics of the Nikon camera bodies. And itâ€™s a simple reason whyâ€”the right side of the cameraâ€™s body has undulating curves that help me grip it firmly for a whole day without hurting my hand. This type of designâ€”an intelligent design, is something that Steve Jobs helped the world learn.
4. â€œThings donâ€™t have to change the world to be important.â€
It is often the simplicity of an Apple product that makes it elegant. Maybe you donâ€™t recall the days when drag and drop was not the norm, but I do. And there is a simple satisfaction in being able to drag and drop things on an Apple computer desktop. One simple fluid step, and youâ€™ve begun to organize your desktop. Itâ€™s time saving, and time saving means you can move on to the more important things instead of spending time on multiple steps just to organize folders in your hard drive.
5. â€œThe only way to do great work is to love what you do.â€
Maybe you wonâ€™t earn as much money doing one type of photography as another. But if you love it a lot, chances are you will be more open-minded shooting that type of genre. Youâ€™ll probably be more relaxed, and as a result more ready for creative thinking.
6. â€œHereâ€™s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holesâ€¦ the ones who see things differently â€” theyâ€™re not fond of rulesâ€¦ You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you canâ€™t do is ignore them because they change thingsâ€¦ they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.â€
I think often of how a class in calligraphy that Jobs took when he was auditing college courses apparently impacted his aesthetics. The craziness I see in his life isnâ€™t that he dropped out of college, went to India and that he dropped acid in his younger days.
The crazy I saw in him, the quality that isnâ€™t a default setting in a lot of people, is that he learned something that wasnâ€™t obviously going to fit a yellow brick road to good design, and he incorporated a sense of it in his own aesthetic.
Calligraphy is graceful, fluid, and has an economy that is functional yet elegant.
7. â€œI want to put a ding in the universe.â€
Steve Jobs enchanted us with his ideas because he never allowed himself to lose track of his vision. He once said, â€œI was worth over $1,000,000 when I was 23, and over $10,000,000 when I was 24, and over $100,000,000 when I was 25, and it wasnâ€™t that important because I never did it for the money.â€ The important thing here is not the part about the money. (Apple has more cash than the US. I mean, insanely so.)
The lesson here is something that creative people have known although rarely ever really talk about (because talking about it is time taken away from just being creative).
Itâ€™s about internal motivation. A vision thatâ€™s internalized serves a stronger motivator than something external, like money. That ding Steve put in the universe is not a goal he probably setâ€”he was probably more worried about design, how to make something simple like an iPod so powerful. He was probably solving problems that were concrete.
But deep inside him, that vision was what sustained his drive. Thatâ€™s what makes the ding.
And the universe heard it.
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