'Life's Change Agent' Visits Steve Jobs Too Soon
As you surely know already, Steve Jobs passed away today, and while it would be easy to say Steve just made technological gizmos, those gizmos have always been tools -- valuable, elegant tools that just work and enabled millions to do inspiring, efficient, creative work. These tools fundamentally changed the way we interact and create every day. In the following speech at Stanford, Steve called death "life’s change agent," saying it "clears out the old to make way for the new." Steve was himself a change agent, making way for the new with his life's work, but he deserved so much more time than the 56 years he was given. Below is his inspiring speech from 2005, as well as a quote that I feel applies to all creatives trying to find their way without knowing exactly where they're going:
Reed College 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.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. 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.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
While there are many meaningful passages in the full text of his speech, this one anecdote in particular stood out to me for some reason. We know we're going to learn something from the act of creating, even if we don't know where our work is going to take us. Just like Steve with typography. Thanks for giving us the inspiration and tools to create, Steve.