Life Lessons from Steve Jobs - Where Do They Show Up & How In Your Life?

The 600 page Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson isn't one I've picked up yet but have been meaning to...Lance Ulanoff recently finished it and wrote a piece on Mashable about lessons learned -- aka insights -- from the man who was mysterious to so many of us, yet has been described in multi-faceted ways: creative, driven, intense, mean, focused, innovative, entrepreneurial, masterful, and a genius.


He has been ranked up there with Einstein in terms of his accomplishments and by others who are either bitter, anti-Apple or who worked with him and just didn't like the man, as lucky albeit smart.

Below is the list of so called lessons gleaned but for the personal reflections inside those lessons, read the original blog post, which also includes a page of fabulous inspirational quotes, one of which includes the phrase said by many a' motivational speaker, "don't settle." I think about that phrase today more than ever.

As we get older, we realize that we have less time to "settle" and live an extraordinary life. When we're really young, even if we subscribe to living a life far beyond "settling," we don't have the wisdom or years behind us to know how fast the decades march on. We often live in the moment which is a beautiful place to live, yet the perspective of time has little meaning.

See Lance's list below. Next to each of his own takeaways from the biography of a man whose death really disturbed so many of us including me (see my so long Steve blog write-up here), are my own reflections and experiences of working in the technology industry, many of which either link to Steve's decisions or what happens if you have a different mindset.

Don’t Wait

One of the most frustrating things I deal with in working with start-ups with small budgets is how many compromises need to be made on a consistent basis. It has also made me and the entrepreneurs I work with learn how to become more resourceful along the way. That said, I think about the "one chance to get it right" more often than not and this means stepping up to the plate. Work the long hours. Get the product out there. Don't wait for your competitor to do so first...the industry just moves too fast.

Make Your Own Reality

My take away from this is connected to "not settling." It's also about building a better life but not accepting the reality that you've been given at any one time for you almost always have the power to change that reality. Sure, you can come up with every excuse in the book: I don't have the money, I don't have the access, I don't have the education, I don't have the resources, yet Gandhi didn't let don'ts, even if they were different ones, get in the way of his success. Steve Jobs didn't either. I say this to teenagers whenever I get the chance: Don't let someone else write your life story or dictate how the chapters should unravel. And I might add, this one still keeps me up at night sometimes.

Control Everything You Can

This is counter to so much of what the social media afficiandos and purists believe, which is centered around collaboration and giving up control. The latter is also something I see as a new "American" behavior even outside the technology industry where parenting is often about collaborating with your kids rather than disciplining them.

Control helps keep things on target, your vision in tact and products on schedule but it also can result in alienating people around you, not allowing others' creativity to flourish and the inevitable...once you're out of the way, what happens to the organization around you?

Control can deliver great things - look at Picasso's paintings and Steve's iPhone. Yet, those I talk to give Apple three years with Steve gone. I'm not sure that I agree, but you get the idea.

Own Your Mistakes

This is probably one of the hardest things to do, particurly when a bad decision negatively impacts a large group of people. But it's also PR 101, when you do a dirty, whether it was intentional or not, own it, apologize, commit to fixing it and move on. If Clinton had done that earlier and embraced his actions from a place of leadership, perhaps we wouldn't have spent so many cycles focused on blowjobs more than the state of our economy. Europe trivilized it and we behaved like high school children, including "some media."

Know Yourself

Yes and I absolutely love this one. Sometimes we know ourselves but "give" ourselves what we need and so I'd add to know thyself, trust thyself. One of my favorite quotes and it isn't a Steve Jobs one: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Leave the Door Open for the Fantastic

Is it fantastic or is it outstanding? I love the latter word because it takes us beyond fantastic. Fantastic is an experience, which Steve Jobs certainly created for us again and again, but outstanding is a way of living, a way of being.

Don’t Hold Back

Ahhh, is this one of the reasons I love Italian culture so much? Or why people like Steven Spielberg awes us time and time again? Don't just give it to them baby, but give all of it to them. As big, as great, as dynamic and as extraordinary as you can.

Surround Yourself with Brilliance

This is a general lesson for great leadership. Outstanding leaders do this time and time again. Choosing and "curating" the right team for a project is a skill of a master. And, rather than be afraid that who you surround yourself may just be more brilliant than you, you embrace it.

Build a Team of A Players

Ahhh, mediocrity. There's nothing that drives me crazier than mediocrity, particularly in business. And "real" A players I'd argue don't waste time trying to convince you that they're A players; they just execute.

Be Yourself

Sure, this largely applies to person-to-person contact, whether it's about managing your team or being ethical with your board and calling the right shots. That said, when I see this statement today, I think about it amidst a world of cluttered messages on the web.


When I see a tweet go out from an account, I think "are they doing this as a way to game the system and up their Klout score aka "perceived influence" or are they doing it from a centered, balanced place (this is who I really am and what I really think).

Or, are they trying to deliver an aura or image of what they think is respected by their peers, some of which haven't behaving so well lately?

Scrambling to get respect from the gate keepers is all around us and some of the conversations I'm hearing and part of behind closed doors is astounding.

I think to myself again and again, "are we really having this conversation? Is sucking up to X or Y influencer while burying who you really are worth it? It's a game not worth playing because it's a life not worth living. And, yet it's happening all around us. In politics. In technology. In life.

Be Persuasive

There are some people who you would build a moon for even if 1,000 people in a row told you a moon couldn't be built. Steve Jobs had that gift which resulted in outstanding products that changed the way we live our lives. Richard Saul Wurman had that gift when he developed the TED Conference concept. Tony Robbins has that gift when he stands in front of thousands of people. Obama has that gift through his calm and articulate embodiment. 

Show Others the Way

We all need mentors whether we think we do or not. Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes the student and sometimes when we think we're the teacher, we end up being the student. I would add to this that the real talent in showing others the way is finding out how people learn and showing them the way in their modality or language. Some teachers only know how to teach from their own modality which leaves a huge percentage of people either bored, pissed off or simply confused.

While it may seem like an awkward aside to raise here, it feels right as I write this. I wish women would stand up for women in business more than they do. I know a lot of incredible women who help, inspire, nurture, fund, and more, however what I haven't personally experienced is women taking risks to help pave the other for others in their peer group. (risking a powerful relationship behind closed doors by speaking up or making things right, speaking up publicly or simply taking the time to encourage in a deep and meaningful way).

By the latter, I don't mean sharing. As women, we do this well. We listen, we share and show our girlfriends we "understand them."

I get some of the reasoning behind why we say no: we're already overspent and don't have the time or energy, we want to reserve that energy for children and family when we're already doing so much, we don't want to risk tampering with a connection that has been instrumental in getting us to our current positions because quite simply, it ain't an easy compromising ride to get there. And so on. That said, the majority of people who have "shown me the way," have been men.

Trust Your Instincts

Steve Jobs was a master at this and most great leaders are too. Women btw are really good at this in their personal lives and we need to know that its an incredibly rich asset in our professional lives too. The best leaders are strong enough to go to a place of solitude when the noise of external voices telling them what to do becomes so loud that they can no longer hear their inner voice. Our inner voices always lead the way.

Take Risks

Silicon Valley is great at taking risks and it all started with the guys at the forefront, Steve Jobs and Steve Wokniak being instrumental in the early days. One of the things I see with companies outside the U.S. is that risk taking is less embraced because it's not part of their culture.

There are always exceptions of course: great products are great products, and great leaders are great leaders. However, I have seen this first hand in working with start-ups and entrepreneurs now from France, Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Canada, England and others. If you truly believe in something, there's no room for fear and doubt. Trust, believe and take the risk because if you don't, someone else most certainly will.

Follow Great with Great

When I read this, I thought of what those who have been to the top know all too well, "you're only as great as what you've done lately." That said, there are entrepreneurs in the Valley and elsewhere who had a successful exit and never "created" anything else. Yet, they're still part of the conversation, at all the VIP dinners and are even funding other startups because they have the money to do so.

You know the drill: you get access when you have one of the following: power (connections to people or things other people need), money (you can buy that access), position (you hold a title at a major company or in government and can use your influence to help), in the inner circle (are part of a prestigious family, went to college with or are buddies with someone of influence and so the latter three are automatically waived).

What's truly remarkable is when none of those things matter, you push them all aside (or simply ignore them) and just consistently keep building great things that benefit people. Steve Jobs showed that he was capable of that with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Pixar. Other "greats" do the same.

Make Tough Decisions

Tough decisions often make you unlikeable, at least to one group or person. I had a reflective conversation in a long cab ride recently with someone who worked with Steve Jobs in the very early days. He attended a small gathering of like-folks after his death somewhere in Silicon Valley.

A question was presented to another person in the group who worked with him, whether she "liked" him. The response was one of silence and no one said a word. A lot of people didn't like him. A lot of people didn't like Picasso.

I'm not suggesting being an asshole is a formula for success but some great leaders who are also artists are often unliked. Steve Jobs was an artist and while he was unliked by many, he was also a visionary who created great things, including inspiration for others to find their own genius inside of them. A gift. Making tough decisions is part of that gift.

Presentation Can Make a World of Difference

It's amazing how many people still rely on traditional Powerpoint slides for presentations. Boring ones. Frankly, I hate speaking in front of large groups and feel "more secure" about my delivery when I use visual aids. Quite simply, its a crutch that helps us move the presentation along when what we should be doing is telling a story from our heart and life experiences that educate, inspire and ultimately move people to action in some way.

Some of the greatest TED talks have used some visual aids, even a slide or two, but 80% of their presentation is about flow and about story. If storytelling isn't the essence of what you deliver, then it most likely isn't an outstanding presentation.

Find a Way to Balance Your Intensity

I would add to this since balancing your intensity isn't the whole picture; balancing your life is what you need so you don't burn out and can find peace with what you signed up, aka your career. If you're not working part-time or gave up a job to raise a family, you're probably spending more time in your work life than any other thing you do. Striking a balance is critical to sustaining happiness and peace with that decision. Life is a long road. Balance sets you free.  

Live for Today

Steve Jobs was much more able to go to that place after he learned about his terminal illness. While intellectually we know that we should live for today even when things are going our way, very few people do.

Isn't living for today just another way of saying "be present"?  And yet, even if we've hung out in Buddhist temples, spend quiet time on yoga and meditation mats, it's hard to live a very present life all the time. Our brains aren't wired that way. At the core of our decision making, even important ones is our lizard brain, a pretty unevolved part of our bodies. Refer to my post on Linchpins, lizard brains & getting uncomfortable.

For the rest of this blog post, click here. For more on creativity here and technology, here.

Renee Blodgett, Founder: Down the Avenue, We Blog the World, Magic Sauce Media and Magic Sauce Photography


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