Steve Jobs: In His Own Words

Cover of Walter Isaacson biography of Steve JobsI just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and would recommend it to anyone who uses an Apple product or who is interested in creativity, intuitive thinking or, as Isaacson put it, the “intersection 0f artistry and science.”

The last couple of pages of the book Isaacson devotes to a verbatim reflection from Jobs on what he hopes his legacy might be. Here are a few selections from that extended quote. Maybe there will spur you to read the whole book.

* On market research: “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse.”‘” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

* On art and science: “Edwin Land of Polaroid talked about the intersection of the humanities and science. I like that intersection. There’s something magical about that place.”

* On startups: “I hate it when people call themselves ‘entrepreneurs’ when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company.”

* On honesty: “I don’t think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I will tell people to their face. It’s my job to be honest. … Maybe there’s a better way, a gentlemen’s club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet code-words, but I don’t know that way, because I am middle class from California.

* On personal growth: “You always have to keep pushing to innovate. Dylan could have sung protest songs forever and probably made a lot of money, but he didn’t. … The Beatles were the same way: They kept evolving, moving, refining their art. That’s what I’ve always tried to do — keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”

Stewart Brand: Still Hungry, Still Foolish.

Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand at the Bioneers conference, 2007

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

That farewell maxim from the final issue of the Whole Earth Catalog encapsulated the message Steve Jobs delivered in his now famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address. With Jobs’ death, the words have gone viral.

The sudden resonance of that 40-year-old quote lies in part to its momentary revival of social awareness in Boomers who have slipped into the mental dormancy of their seventh decade. More than that, though, it was welcomed into the hearts of an iGeneration who has come of age in an hour when the promise of a bright digital future is obscured by the persistent fog of a dismal global economy, a stagnant and hostile political state, and a well-founded anxiety that their time is passing before they ever had the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Last Whole Earth Catalog

They voted for Barack Obama because he offered hope and change. They eulogize Steve Jobs because he gave it to them.

The intellect behind the Whole Earth Catalog belongs to its co-founder and editor, Stewart Brand. After Jobs died, I Googled my way through Brand’s life and rediscovered a man whose impact on the ideas and sensibilities shaped — and continue to shape — a broad swath of the world we live in. His footprints are embedded on constructs as diverse as electronic social communities (The Well) to strategic corporate thinking (Global Business Network) and the current debate about the use of nuclear power as a long-term energy solution (here’s the book).

Given all that, Brand had a bit more to say than “stay hungry, stay foolish.” Here, then, are some other quotes from Brand. Maybe they’ll compel you to learn more about him (or to reacquaint you with what has slipped out of memory).

* “Information wants to be free.” Often cited by those who believe ownership of digital content is universal, it was part of larger statement in which Brand also said, ” … information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable.” Here’s the whole story.

* “You own your own words, unless they contain information. In which case they belong to no one.” The sign-on message of The Well.

* “A library doesn’t need windows. A library is a window.”

* “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

* “Civilization’s shortening attention span is mismatched with the pace of environmental problems.”

And, perhaps my favorite:

* “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”