They say you are the product of your influences and I believe this couldn’t be more true. I've been a sponge throughout my career and am greatly indebted to all the people who taught me everything that I know, both directly and indirectly. I've read many auto biographies, articles and watched countless videos of people I admire. There is one man who has inspired me a great deal and I've never met him. His name is Steve Jobs. Here are 7 things I've learnt from him which I will share with you along with my own stories. I hope some of these points will resonate with you, as they have meant a great deal to me.
1. Failure is a blessing in disguise.
Steve Jobs got kicked out of Apple when he turned 30. He was ousted from Apple in a very public and humiliating way. “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life... It was awful tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it.”
I guess in todays tech culture failure no longer has that huge stigma it once did. But growing up my parents and everyone around me instilled in me that failure was for losers. I always did well in school, I sucked at sports so never pursued it. (However I'm a big lover of sports now and play tennis every chance I get) When I used to get less than an A or a test score that was less than 95%, it was as if I'd let myself and everyones expectations of me down. So when I first started as a designer there was that giant fear in me where it was so humiliating to fail. To have work rejected. I was once on a call with a client and had to have her on loudspeaker. She was tearing down my design and the worst part was half of the office could hear her criticising and shutting down my work, it was humiliating and crushing. Of course it would still hurt if that happened today. But I realised as long as I dusted myself off and kept going this was not the end of the road. And coming out the other end I've always learnt a great deal from these experiences. Failure is a catalyst to be better. Unless you let it immobilise you, it can and will make you better. Ever since these incidents I've crushed it at my work — because I became more empathetic and I listened closer to what the client had to say, understood the ins and outs of the project better and worked more collaboratively. Failure is just a stepping stone to something better.
2. Your differences are what make you great.
Think different, be different. Steve always steered the ship at Apple completely different to his competitors. For the longest time all tech products were marketed based on features, more gHZ, better resolution and more speed. Apple approached it with context on how can these products make your life better. He did things his way. No one cared about the details of what a computer looked like on the inside, or the aesthetic of a computer. But Steve and the team at Apple thought differently and they dared to stand out. It was this unique stance that helped them cut through the noise.
I'm sure many of you reading have been in this position. We all want to fit in. Be the same as everybody else. And as an Asian Australian growing up, there have been times in my life where I've lost a piece of my identity. I wanted to fit in, to have more and to be the same as everyone else. Adopt others values and not my true values. I was also born with a slight disorder on my chest called pectus excavutum. As child I would avoid going to swimming classes because I didn't like the fact that I was different from my friends and classmates. I was afraid to be ridiculed. It turns out my friends didn't care about it as much as it concerned me, that the people who mattered most didn't really give a shit. When I started getting older I really appreciated these differences. Because it turned out that these differences were not weaknesses but a strength. It made me, well...me. It built my character and allowed me to appreciate a lot of things in life, to embrace my diversity and to be grateful. You are going to feel like you have been dealt a lot of crappy cards and it is going to suck if you dwell on it. Acknowledge it but move on. The are a lot of things that are going right about your life. Focus your energy on those things instead. As the world becomes more and more globalised it is so many of these unique characteristics that make us who we are. To have diverse thinking and to come from obscure backgrounds. I inject all of my experience, personality and knowledge into the work I create. These days I try to stay true to myself as often as I can and stand for what I believe in. It has allowed me to think differently than 99% of the population and has allowed me to be free and do the work that I love everyday. Embrace your differences, it is your individualism that makes you unique and awesome.
3. Have passion and do what you love
There are different school of thoughts on this. Don't do what you love because it'll eventually become a job or a chore and you'll hate it. Or do what you love because only then will you not give up, when things get tough. I am from the second school of thought. “The ones that were successful were the ones that loved what they did so they could persevere when it got tough. And the ones who didn't love it, quit because they were sane.” When Steve was ousted from Apple he was down and out. But he bounced back and founded NeXT and Pixar during this time period. Whilst he was gone from Apple he realised he could still continue doing what he loved and that nothing had really changed. Apart from what people had perceived of him.
I've always been creative and interested in how things worked ever since I was child. Perhaps it was my kindergarten teachers who encouraged my parents to buy me legos when I was a kid. My teachers said that it would help develop my mind and creativity. We weren't rich growing up so, my parents were migrants to Australia and buying toys was definitely seen as a luxury item. In the end my mum buckled and bought me legos because they were kind of educational, and man did I love those blocks. I built everything with those damn things. I believed it sparked my curiosity and creativity or perhaps it was always there to begin with, I'll never know for sure.
When I was 8 I remember going to the airport and just being fascinated by the screens that would tell the time and flight schedule. This was before they were all digital. They were still motorised then, the tabs would flicker and next flight schedules would get rotated through. I thought that was one of the coolest things ever and wondered how it all worked. I've also always been fascinated by way finding systems, the infographics and even the typography before I even knew what that was. When I was 15 I saw these flash animations and interactive games that my cousin had shown me and I was hooked. I then got into Paintshop pro (eventually photoshop) and did digital art, magazine layouts in word and built crappy websites. The teachers really thought I had a talent.
Even after all this, I thought I was going to become an accountant, an engineer or a doctor. Because everything I did up until that point was just a hobby. I was just going to settle in life and tread the well worn path. I didn't even do any arts or technology subjects in my two final years. Right up until my final year of high school and when I was about to graduate, I finally realised it wasn't just a hobby anymore and that I wanted to do this as a career. I decided to pursue a marketing and design/multimedia course. I thought if the design and multimedia stuff didn't work out I could always just phone it in again and settle doing real work as a marketer. The marketing classes actually turned out to be useful many years later. But most importantly I just got to do what I loved and that was creating things. I landed an intern position that taught me so much about design and that truly spring boarded my passion and career. 11 years later and here I am, even more excited and enthusiastic about what I'm doing. When I create something that I truly love and am proud of – it’s one of the best feelings in the world. So remember to do what you love. My work is still seen as play.
4. Don’t do it for the money
Steve was worth $100 million by the time he was 25. He said “that money is wonderful because it enables you to do things, it enables you to invest in ideas that don't have a short term payback...but it's not the most important thing. The most important thing [is] the company, the people and the products [they] were making.” He created great products and enriched our lives with them because that was his motivation and not because of the money.
Having naively pursued a career with design I started working on things because I loved the creative output. As a graduate I probably made a lot less than some of my friends who pursued other ‘professional’ type careers. Starting out I just put my head down and did the work. Over time the money just naturally came. I think for me it is a nice motivator just to keep score and to track how I'm doing. If I lost all my money now, yeah it'd suck a bit. But I'd still be designing and doing the same things I'd do today. I'd still be happy. I believe great works breeds great results, and that is the catalyst for things to fall into place. I just really enjoy what I do, the climb and always trying to be better. To make a small dint in the world. If I had to do crap work, with huge pay vs great work with less pay. I'd pick great work every time. Unless the crap work allowed me to pursue and fund my ideas down the track then it's worth the trade off. I think one of the biggest soul crushing things for me is producing crap and meaningless work. So don't focus on the money and you'll be surprise how it will all work out.
5. Don't live a limited life, produce work you are proud of
“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is.That life is just to live your life inside the world and try not to bash into the walls too much.” Steve and Apple changed the world. Despite all the naysayers, all the ups and downs they dared to dream and creating products that they were proud of.
I definitely believed that I was just a cog in a system growing up, just follow through with all things that were set out already. I dreamt about superficial things, how cool it would be to be an executive, to have a big team and to have respect. Later in life I realised all that superficial shit didn't really matter. It was about doing what you truly cared about, and putting something out into the world that you thought was “good” work. There is an old picture that I saved a long time ago into my inspiration folder. “Go to work, send your kids to school, follow fashion, act normal, walk on the pavement, watch T.V. save for your old age, obey the law. Repeat after me: I am free.” I really love this message.
It's as if it's a constant reminder not to be the status quo. Keep chipping away at something you believe in and become a producer not a consumer. I can't wait to launch this Design Masterclass that I am working on. Teaching and helping other people get better. The class may work or it may not work I'm not sure. But I decided to do something different and not feel limited by life's possibilities. Teach people about digital design and sharing my passion and knowledge with others. It is scary putting yourself out there because you will be criticised. But it's important to take chances, you can't please everybody, but you can really make a difference to those people who do matter.
6. Marketing is not a dirty thing if you create great products
There's always this image to me when you talk about marketing. It always sounds like you are tricking people into buying something useless like snake oil. But if you align yourself authentically and offer people something that is actually great there is nothing sticky or grimy about it. All great marketing is is aligning people who have the same values as your brand and offer something that can enrich their lives. Create a great story, stick to your core values, let people know what you stand for and create great products. That is the essence of great marketing and I believe Apple was the greatest at doing this on a scale never seen before. I really love the internet because it's really evened the playing field. Individuals can now have as much reach as corporations without huge budgets, purely by doing great work and reaching it to a wider audience. So if you have something truly great please share it and market it!
7. Stay hungry, stay foolish
In Steve's commencement speech for Stanford he closed with this statement. “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” It’s really stuck with me over time. The more I learn, the more I realise that I really don't know much at all. I am forever a student of life and design. Forever in the pursuit of creating great work and being curious.
I just want to say that Steve Jobs was not a perfect person, he may not have even been a nice person at times. But I truly believe he loved what he did. And because of that passion and vision he is a great role model for people like us who are in the creative field. So thank you for all your inspiration. “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. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About 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 people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”