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What Would Steve Do?
 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

What Would Steve Do?

by Paul E. Richardson

Late last night, my son texted me from college: "Steve Jobs died." 

How to explain the feeling of sadness and loss that overcame me, as it did many others at hearing this news? I think it is simply that we have lost a visionary, a modern prophet, someone who changed the way we see the world. And when the world loses someone like that, especially when they are so young, it feels like the world has lost a bit of its future...

Certainly the announcement of Job's death was not a surprise. We all knew Jobs was sick, very sick, and that his imminent sense of mortality influenced his work and life. He himself, in his wonderful 2005 commencement address at Stanford, ruminated on that impact.

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 to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Just before this, in that same speech, Jobs said 

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Steve Jobs was a passionate, perfectionist, visionary entrepreneur who changed the world as we know it by making "truly great stuff." And while I never met him, he immeasurably altered the course of my life, of my company's life: for the past 20 years, Apple has been at the forefront of changing every aspect of publishing as we know it, making possible things that just a few years ago were unthinkable.

So this morning it occured to me that, in these challenging economic times, it may well behoove us business people, entrepreneurs, students, creative types – whatever, to stop, look around at what we are doing, and ask ourselves, "What would Steve do?"

Examining the circumstances and options of one's life (or business) and asking hard questions can put a whole lot of things into perspective.

  • "Is this the best I can do?"
  • "Am I compromising quality for some other quick payoff?"
  • "Is this truly great?"
  • "Is this the best way to be spending my time?"
  • "Am I following my heart?"
  • "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"

In the coming issue of our journal Chtenia, the literary invention Kozma Prutkov says, "Death was wisely placed at the end of life so we could have time to prepare for it." It is never to early to start. And of course I don't mean in the sense of reserving a plot or taking out life insurance, but thinking about the impression you will leave behind, the lives you will have changed.

But Steve Jobs gets the final word today:

Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you.