Ten Things I Learned From Steve Jobs Before He Was 30 

I worked as Industrial Designer and later Creative Director at Apple between 1981 and 1989. At times I worked closely with Steve Jobs and, needless to say, learned a ton.

Some lessons that I’ll never forget:

1.    Learn as much as you can before you’re 30. We were in our twenties at the time, so this idea came up a lot. Steve strongly believed habits set in early and it gets increasingly hard to change them after age 30 plus you acquire responsibilities, your head gets filled with other peoples’ ideas and you succumb to pressures to avoid risk. Now, far beyond age 30 I can safely say: he was right.

2.    Don’t worry about consistency. Trying to be consistent for consistency’s sake will stifle innovation and waste time. —Ever notice how ruthlessly Apple obsoletes it’s own standards?

3.    Don’t waste time with Bozos. Even with great people, it’s tough and time-consuming to develop truly great products. So, don’t even bother trying with Bozos —“B-players” and those below.

4.    Don’t tolerate disloyalty. One thing Steve hated the most were people who’d share (what he believed was) private information with outsiders. Steve wanted to trust those around him like family, because this fostered honesty and allowed openness. Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way after talking to a guy writing a book about Apple, without prior approval. I think he’s still pissed about it.

5.    Ask, “What is this shit?” In other words, be honest and direct, very direct! He believed great people really appreciate the unvarnished truth and those who don’t probably aren’t great. But boy did this philosophy stir things up in practice. One time I heard Steve say to a world renowned and patronly industrial designer, “Your work really isn’t that good, is it?” Thing is, he wasn’t trying to be rude - he was trying to get to the core of the designer’s unconventional vision without wasting time on small talk. And if the response he got enlightened him, he was open to changing his opinion.

6.    Experiment with mind-altering experiences, especially when you’re young. Steve often asked job candidates about experiences they had while doing drugs or travelling to offbeat places. The reason? He was sincerely interested in how their perspectives, priorities and creativity had been altered.

7.    Challenge rationality to get remarkable results. Steve was amazed and inspired by people who had done awesome things that defied rational and practical norms —and succeeded in spite of them. He loved ideas that had little linear rationale behind them, but still made a hell of a lot of sense in when executed. He said once that the Beatles song, “A Day in the Life,” which is a collection of newspaper headlines turned into a song, was “insanely great.”

8.    If you really want to get something important done, call someone NOW. If Steve needed to solve a problem or hire someone, he’d call someone immediately. He had this “why wait?” sort of attitude. Acting while the issue is hot helps you get quick results (or delegate the mission) so you can move on to something else.

9.    Nothing beats walking and talking if you want fresh thinking. At least daily – and sometimes many times a day —you’d spot Steve pacing while talking with another Apple exec or engineer up and down the street outside the Apple buildings. For him, sitting in a conference room or office sucked the energy out of a meeting or creative discussion. Since the Apple days, I’ve seen research indicating that people think better standing up, and better still while walking.

10.    Look at things really close. I noticed Steve looking as brochure specs for a stereo system one time in Germany. The sheet was inches away from his eyes and I realized I’d seen him do this many times, so I finally asked him about it. He said he looked at things closely because “most people don’t, and it shows in their work.”

These were all things Steve said or lived by in his twenties.

Thanks Steve. Your lessons live on.

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