Make Something Wonderful by Steve Jobs

April 15, 2023

Curated selection of Steve Jobs’ speaking and writing along the blazing arc of his work.

I read this on my Kindle, which is an insult to the glorious web presentation. (If you’re planning to read this, an iPad would be ideal!)

It’s funny how much reading is contextual. My reaction to the same book, or a person’s exact words I’ve read before, changes a depending on where I am in my life and what I’m thinking about.

I appreciated reading mostly Jobs’ own words, with just enough contextual orientation—emails being the most interesting because they seem more personal. I obviously didn’t know him and I doubt my heartbeat was ever within 100 miles of his, so all I know is from videos, stories, and mostly Walter Isaacson’s biography.

This felt like a careful selection of words that illuminated a simpler character than I’ve come to imagine. Even still, I was quieted and inspired reading it.

The theme I was most struck by was listening.

Jobs seemed to highlight the importance of listening in many ways, whether it was to his own motivations or inviting other peoples’ perspective and challenges as “the way we get to the right decisions.” It’s well known that he argued fiercely and had no shortage of strong feelings, but I admire a commitment—at least in what I read here—to listening.

And since I was 17, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself “If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And when the answer has been “NO” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something in my life.

That’s one of those things that seems obvious. And maybe for most people it is, but I’m often convincing myself of something which may or may not be helpful. It takes real effort to get quiet and listen to myself without judgment. All the more to do that regularly.

My favorite demonstration of this skill was in the email exchange with Andy Grove, where he obviously sat with another person’s argument and completely came around to it “180 degrees.” There must have been significant gravity to the implications, but a commitment to values—the sort of values he plainly espoused—won out. To me, this is what strength of character looks like. It seemed like one of many moments where he demonstrated that finding the right answer was more important than being the one to have it.

This is distinctly not waffling, but moving from one clear position to another with purpose.

I’ve read that he frequently reversed decisions and changed course, and it was apparent in all these things he wrote that he listened very carefully with strong ideas loosely held. While he seems like a complex character, he’s a person who listened with care and endlessly worked to evolve.

Always in service of curiosity and creativity.

Be a creative person. Creativity equals connecting previously unrelated experiences and insights that others don’t see.

For such a visionary and apparently intense leader, I was also struck by how little ego there was in a lot of what I read here. Like he was just an attentive guy in the middle of things, making the most thoughtful decisions he could and taking immense care to recruit and learn from people he admired.

Life is short; don’t waste it. Tell the truth. Technology should enhance human creativity. Process matters. Beauty matters. Details matter. The world we know is a human creation—and we can push it forward.