The Core of Steve Jobs
The Apple chairman lost his biggest health battle but—equipped with a worldly
view and the ability to think positively—he changed the way many of
us live and became a cultural icon along the way.
by Lisa James and Allan Richter
Steve Jobs was the business world’s first rock star. Even as he appeared increasingly gaunt from illness, the Apple chairman cut a larger-than-life figure as he worked the stage to usher in new products at Apple’s Macworld conferences.
As journalists, Wall Street analysts and fiercely loyal tech-savvy consumers hung onto every word, Jobs displayed a mix of showmanship and innovation genius that helped spawn a dozen books about him during his lifetime. His death from pancreatic cancer last month at age 56 triggered an emotional response—unprecedented for a business figure—that saw customers leaving tributes like iPads and apples (with a bite removed to mimic the company logo) at the doorsteps of Apple stores around the world.
Jobs left an $8.3 billion fortune at his death. But it was his runaway success at redefining the computing, music distribution and communications industries—and the celebrity status that became attached to Jobs and his products—that has invited comparisons to Thomas Edison and a raft of scrutiny about what made the modern technology giant tick. By most accounts of those who knew and analyzed Jobs the answer to that was a confluence of dynamics that Jobs embraced from his early days as something of a hippie and naturalist: unbridled drive, passion and perseverance; a keen ability to connect elements that would appear disparate to others; and a deep appreciation for simplicity rooted in his Zen Buddhist beliefs. Those components were part of Jobs’ DNA, appearing consistently throughout his life. “I had worked at IBM and Intel and never met someone that young that had so much energy and passion,” recounts Jay Elliot, a former Apple senior vice president who met Jobs when the Apple chief was 26 and already worth $200 million. “Amazingly to me, up until he really got sick in August, it never changed. The Steve I knew in 1980 was the same Steve” of 30 years later, Elliot says. “He was still building products that were going to change the world and that were going to make consumers excited about what they were doing and would give them the same passion he had.”
Jobs’ minimalist approach showed up in his taste for simple meals. A one-time vegan, Jobs ate only fruit for a time after returning from a trip to India as a young man, Elliot says. More recently, Jobs ate simply prepared chicken or fish with salad. Elliot, author of The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation (Vanguard Press), recalls his visit to a 15,000-square-foot Woodside, California, mansion Jobs once bought. “He was living in the maid’s quarters because it was connected to the kitchen. He had a lamp and a bed and chair,” Elliot says. “Even today in his house there’s not a lot of furniture.” At Apple meetings, Jobs would study the simple functionality of his hand, then later introduce to the market devices with interfaces that required no mouse, only the use of a finger. “He talked about how the greatest design in the history of the world was the egg. It was designed to protect what was inside, and even the texture of it and the way it was shaped was an amazing natural design,” Elliot recalls.
Jobs’ unfussy approach was at work in his trademark black mock turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers, as well as in the 99-cent price he set for a song downloaded from iTunes, whether it was Elvis Presley or Elvis Costello, and when he designed the iPod with a scroll wheel that could find one of those downloaded songs with the easy movement of a thumb. It was also at work when he streamlined Apple by paring it down from 350 products to only a handful upon his return to the company in 1997. “Steve Jobs said innovation means saying no to 1,000 things. In other words, what can we simplify, what can we eliminate?” says Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (both McGraw Hill). “A Steve Jobs presentation is Zenlike; it’s one word or just a beautiful image on a slide as he’s talking.”
All to the good
In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, famous for its rare public commentary by Jobs and held up as a model address, the Apple chairman talked about the value of a worldly view and leaving no experience to waste. When Jobs dropped out of Reed College, a liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, so he wouldn’t deplete his parents’ savings, he snuck into classes that interested him, including a calligraphy course. “None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life,” Jobs told the Stanford graduates. “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.”
Susan O’Connell, vice president of the San Francisco Zen Center, says Jobs’ ability to connect those seemingly unrelated elements reflect his Zen philosophy. “Meditation gives you an experience of that connection,” O’Connell says. Kobun Chino, the Buddhist priest who would marry Jobs and his wife, practiced at the SFZC’s Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, where Jobs studied.
Jobs’ famous 1985 departure from Apple in a power struggle was a strong showing of his perseverance. He went on to start the computer company NeXT. And in 1986 Jobs bought
Pixar Animation Studios from George Lucas and made Toy Story, the critically acclaimed first feature made with computer graphics.
Jobs’ belief system and positive thinking may have helped him cope with his cancer. About 9% of cancer patients report using meditation—a practice Jobs engaged in for decades. It allows someone diagnosed with cancer “to handle the different options because you get bombarded with everything that the doctors tell you,” says Vijaya Nair, MD, author of Prevent Cancer, Strokes, Heart Attacks & Other Deadly Killers (SquareOne). It’s a practice she believes helped Jobs survive for seven years after his surgery and helped him continue steering Apple during his illness. “I always strongly suggest that everybody learn how to meditate, calm the mind and connect with your inner sources of wisdom,” Nair says.
Jobs was among about 40% of cancer patients who turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Some of the country’s top cancer centers offer CAM to help patients deal with the emotional and physical difficulties associated with the disease and its treatments.
Jobs was diagnosed in October 2003 but put off surgery to pursue alternative treatments, according to the new book Steve Jobs (Simon & Shuster) by Walter Isaacson. Jobs underwent surgery for the rare pancreatic cancer called a neuroendocrine tumor in July 2004. Such malignancies develop from islet cells, which produce various hormones, found within the pancreas instead of cells that make up the organ itself.
Standard pancreatic cancer is highly lethal; only 6% of patients survive more than five years. Islet-cell tumors, the type Jobs had and which account for about 2,500 of the estimated 44,030 pancreatic cancers diagnosed in the US every year, tend to have a better prognosis, with an average five-year survival rate of 42%. However, “not all these tumors are created equal. Some can be quite aggressive,” says Veena Shankaran, MD, of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She says local tumors would typically be removed, with other treatments reserved for tumors that have spread.
Jobs took another leave of absence in January 2009 and had a liver transplant three months later. In January 2011 he went on medical leave again, finally stepping down as Apple CEO in August. He died October 5.
Those who study Zen believe it may have helped Jobs accept the finality of an illness he could no longer control. “I hope Steve was prepared through his Zen work for death. We don’t die at death; it is our ultimate enlightenment,” says Greg Campbell, senior resident at Jikoji Zen Center in Los Gatos, California.
Jobs was reluctant to discuss his illness but he came close in his 2005 Stanford University speech. “Your time is limited,” Jobs told the students, “so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”