Photo by San Jose Library (CC BY-SA 2.0)
What made Steve Jobs great? It wasn’t any one thing: it was a combination of traits and skillsets. I would argue his most important trait was, to quote Joe Nocera of the NYTimes:
…an astonishing aesthetic sense, which businesspeople almost always lack.
Now an astonishing aesthetic sense does not just happen. Here in Jobs’ own words from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, is one way he cultivated his aesthetic muscles:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
OK, yes, he dropped out. But if this class had not been available to Jobs, would he have developed into the powerhouse that he became? I don’t know. I do know that he thought this was a turning point in his life.
I firmly believe that arts education is a critical component to our economic success. My guess is that the lessons that Jobs learned doing calligraphy carried over to his ability to orchestrate new products, to visualize new opportunities, and to create market-moving presentations.
Jobs certainly had other things that helped him—an affinity to technology, an ability to hire the best people (and fire them and rehire them over and over), exposure to Silicon Valley as a youth, and on and on. But without his aesthetic sense, what would he have accomplished?
If we want more kids to grow up like Steve Jobs, we need to provide provide quality arts learning opportunities to more of our young people. Everybody should be able to noodle out a tune on a piano, draw a realistic picture from observation, write simple calligraphy, write a powerful poem, dance a vital swing step, and act out a character with verve. And these skills are all teachable.
I know people who are researching the impact of the arts on other learning, and the preliminary data are powerful: studying the arts enriches achievement in other areas. Is that any surprise? Creating art requires perception, analysis, and synthesis, to create a product that evokes passionate response from others. The kind of passion that millions of Apple uses feel for the works of their maestro, Steve Jobs.
If we want to succeed in a global economy, we need quality arts education more than ever. I am emphasizing children as the focus of this post, but for you grownups, it’s not too late to take some guitar lessons, a drawing class, or maybe even calligraphy.
(Photo of Apple Store Soho sign, by Matt Day (CC BY-ND 2.0)
I had an indirect experience with Steve Jobs’ micromanager side when I was part of a recurring event at the Apple store in 2005 in SOHO. At this event people gave presentations about the (then) emerging phenomenon of video podcasting. The first time we did the event, one of the presenters showed a video that included some political commentary. The next time we came in, the manager nervously approached the presenters to make sure we weren’t showing anything overtly political. Apparently, some customer had complained to Apple and Steve personally called up the manager and reamed him out about it. I think it would have driven me nuts to work for a guy like that, but do respect his deep involvement in his company. He definitely sweated the details.
Envizualize is going intercontinental next week. I will give the wrap up presentation at the Technia PLM forum in Stockholm after capturing the conversations with large scale visual notes.
Here is the welcome statement from Technia CEO, Jonas Gejer:
Technia Innovation Forum is about how PLM software solutions can help your company, regardless of industry, to become much more efficient in your product development. Topics of discussion will include but arenâ€™t limited to the following:
How can PLM solutions help your company better manage product structures and components? How can â€œbetter managementâ€ help you cut costs and shorten time to market? Can PLM ensure and enforce that you are in compliance with regulatory demands? Could it possibly help you manage your certifications? How can PLM help you shorten the process for component reuse, make a few design updates, locate a supplier, and meet your target product launch date with the desired margin? All these questions and many more will be addressed on September 21st, 2011 in Stockholm. Industry experts and PLM gurus will share with you their hands-on experience how PLM can revolutionize the way you bring products to market.
I’m looking forward to meeting the participants and learning from the great folks at the Technia PLM Forum!
We’d love to introduce you to our baby girl, Josie! She was born yesterday in Pittsburgh. We have loved hanging out with her so far and are looking to wheelbarrows of fun with her. And since this is the Envizualize blog, I have included a little sketch.
Had a blast being part of Pecha Kucha Night Pittsburgh, Vol 8. I enjoyed everybody’s talks, and was honored to test out a new slideshow talk of my own on the packed-in audience.
Unfortunately I did not hand my camera off to someone to get a pic of myself rocking the mic. Anybody got a pic for me? If so, please send it to jonny(at)envizualize.com and I’ll add it to the set of images from that night.
Thanks to Assemble for hosting us and AIA and AIGA Pittsburgh for producing the event.
If you missed this one, come check me out this coming week, July 7, at 7:30 where I will be doing live illustration of peoples rants and raves about their neighborhoods, also at Assemble, 5125 Penn Ave in Pittsburgh.
Pecha Kucha is an event which happens in cities all over the world where people give 6 minute talks along with timed slides about whatever they want.
I will be giving a talk called “The War on Sugar” accompanied by my own hand-drawn illustrations. The talk is a thought experiment musing about what would happen if we banned sugar the way we banned a variety of other substances like cannabis, heroin, and methamphetamine. After all, sugar is very bad for us—over 71,000 people in the USA had diabetes listed as the cause of death in 2007. In the same year over 161,000 death certificates listed diabetes as a contributing factor, and surely over consumption of sugar was a contributor to many of those deaths. But would we want to criminalize consumption and production of sugar? Hmmm….Yes, okay, this is a thinly disguised indictment of the War on Drugs. For links to resources where you can learn more check here.
When: 8PM, Thursday, June 30
Assemble (Art and Tech Community Space)
5125 Penn Ave Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In this event, attendees will describe what makes their neighborhood great, not so great, and just plain distinctive as I render their descriptions as illustrations on the wall so everyone can see the stories unfold with pictorial accompaniment. This should be a great way to learn about different parts of Pittsburgh and meet some community minded folks.
When: 7:30 PM, Thursday, July 7.
Where: Assemble (Art and Tech Community Space)
Assemble (Art and Tech Community Space)
5125 Penn Ave Pittsburgh, PA 15224