What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Creativity

Originally Published February 17th, 2019

5273557_6abcc41f.jpgPhoto Credit: Robin Stott

I recently finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and I wanted to share a few creative takeaways.

A lot of people are familiar with Jobs from his work at Apple and Pixar—not many know about his personality quirks and temperamental nature.

Jobs was a dirty hippy (he would often smell, walked barefoot, and was a staunch vegan). Yes he was a tech geek but what separated him from his contemporaries was a background in eastern thought & psychedelic drugs.

He was inspired by the Beat Generation, Dylon, The Beatles, and even spent time in India—searching for spiritual meaning.

The influence of 1960’s subculture played a major role in shaping Jobs’ personality & work—his obsession with minimalism & simplicity, his outlook on money and material possessions (despite being wealthy, he didn’t own furniture for a very long time), as well as his ability to arguably bend reality to his will.

In spite of his many character flaws, Jobs will be remembered 100 years from now as one of the most innovative thinkers and creators of our time.

So what are some lessons to learn from his creative legacy?

Real Artists Grow

“I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out ok.”

Jobs dropped out of college and never finished his degree. He did however, continue taking classes on subjects that interested him. One being a calligraphy course which later became the basis for the fonts of the Apple Macintosh.

“You have to believe that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Real Artists Grow—they continue to expand their knowledge. Even if it’s something that you might not think will apply to your passions; things have a way of connecting & stacking onto one another—creating something new & sometimes revolutionary.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

Real Artists Cannibalize

“Don’t take it all too seriously. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.”

Artists must be willing to evolve. There has to be a steady flow of progress—reaching for the future while shedding the skin of our past.

One example of this was the creation of the iPhone.

Apple knew that the iPhone would cannibalize the sales of their revolutionary music player—the iPod.

In order to innovate—you have to be willing to kill your darlings.

Real Artists Ship

“The doers are the major thinkers. The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the thinker and doer in one person.”

Real Artists Ship—what Jobs meant by this was creative thinking is only part of the process. We have to be willing to implement our ideas—to actually create something.

If we spend all day with our heads in the clouds and never act—nothing is accomplished.

How can we expect to make an impact if we aren’t willing to deliver the product or service that we create in your minds?

Real Artists Ship—Meaning Real Artists Deliver

In other words—do the work.

“People judge you on your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Real Artists Simplify

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Jobs was obsessed with creating clean, simple, minimalist products. He would carry foam prototypes around the office—playing with them, showing them to colleagues and getting their thoughts, slashing away unnecessary features.

His focus was so intense on designing the perfect product, he ordered that the circuit boards be pleasing to the eye—even though they wouldn’t be seen.

If a product did not meet Jobs’ specifications—he would throw temper tantrums, cry, and verbally abuse his employees.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

He would spend ridiculous amounts of time thinking about the smallest detail of a product. The color, the shape, the size, the materials—often annoying designers, manufacturers and causing employee burnout.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”

At one point a colleague of Jobs raved about the design of the iPad. After traveling abroad he let a young kid play with the device, in which the child intuitively started tapping on icons, using apps, and playing games. “Jobs has created a device so simple—that a 6 year old illiterate child can pick it up and instantly begin using it.”

Simplicity is everything. 

Real Artists Think Different

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”

Think Different became the add campaign of Apple during the late 90’s. It would inspire a generation of artists & creatives to begin using apple products.

“Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. 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.

Jobs was always a rebel in his thinking and his actions. He refused to keep a license plate on his vehicle. He didn’t bathe or wear deodorant—proclaiming that his vegan diet made it unnecessary (even though he still smelled).

He had a way of bending reality to fit his will. This worked to his advantage when convincing engineers to do the impossible.

“You can build your own things that other people can use. And once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

“Once you discover one simple fact, and that is everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”

Real artists—real innovators must think different. It’s up to us to see things in an opposite way, an alternative way, a revolutionary way.

How else do you make a dent in the universe?

As always, thanks for reading.


For more Steve Jobs inspiration—check out this commencement speech.

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