On October 5th, 2011, we lost what was – without a doubt – one of the greatest leaders of our generation. At the young age of 56, Steven Paul Jobs’ life was taken after a long, fierce battle with pancreatic cancer. I am not here today to dwell on the sadness of this loss, but rather celebrate the life of one of the most impactful figures in recent history. Through this eulogy, I hope to: 1. Convey the fact that Steve has directly and significantly impacted each and every one of our lives, and 2. Point out some of Steve’s defining characteristics that we should try to emulate as we each embark our own careers and life-paths after college.
There are three things in particular I admire about Steve that I’d like to speak about today. First is his ability to envision. Second, is his ability to ignore. And lastly, is his ability to inspire.
There are many individuals throughout history that we consider “visionaries” – the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few. What they have in common – along with many other visionaries – is that they each invented or reinvented an industry: the Wright brothers with airplanes, Henry Ford with cars, and Mark Zuckerberg with communication. Needless to say, all of the aforementioned innovators have completely changed our lives for the better. Yet, when you look at Steve jobs’ body of work, he is truly in a “visionary” class of his own. Steve didn’t just leave his mark on a single industry- he invented or completely reinvented six separate ones: computers, movies, music, phones, tablets, and retail. He conquered the archaic PC by creating the design-oriented and rebellious Macintosh. He permanently altered the film landscape by founding Pixar and selling it to Disney. He transformed the way we consume music by creating the iTunes store. He completely revolutionized the way we search for and discover information on the go with the iPhone. Then he did that again with the iPad. And throughout the last decade, he has completely altered the retail business for consumer electronics by creating hundreds of magnificent Apple Stores across the globe.
But being a visionary itself is limited. Without the ability to execute on an idea, being a visionary – no matter how revolutionary one’s ideas are – will prove to be fruitless. Steve was known to have a complex personality that often confused the people around him, even his closest friends and co-workers. His most discussed trait was the one people called his “reality distortion field.” Put simply, Steve had the ability to convince himself and others around him to believe almost anything, using a combination of charm, charisma, bravado, and tenacity. When people told him something couldn’t be done, he simply denied it. Similarly, when people approached him with an idea he didn’t believe in, he simply ignored it. He listened to only himself, distorting reality in ways that aligned with his beliefs. He became well known for his opposition to conducting market research, believing that consumers had no idea what they wanted, but rather HE knew exactly what they wanted. And he was right. His ability to ignore critics and skeptics was ultimately the most crucial aspect of his creativity that led him to conceive amazing consumer products time and time again. As Steve said before he passed, “Innovation is saying “no” to 1,000 things.”
Although it was subject to a lot of criticism, Steve’s reality distortion field was also acknowledged as being his primary way of instilling the idea that the impossible was, in fact, possible. It was a part of his incredibly powerful ability to inspire, a characteristic of his that I admire dearly. Perhaps the most famous story of Steve’s inspiration is when he approached then-Pepsi President John Sculley to offer him a position as Apple’s CEO. Steve was a superstar when it came to inspiration, knowing just the right things to say to appeal to another’s most important values and emotions. As legend has it, Steve approached John and asked him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water — or do you want to change the world?” With just once sentence, Steve had convinced John to resign from Pepsi and join him at Apple.
As we all continue to pursue our dreams and careers, it is important that we keep these ideals in our minds. We shouldn’t be afraid to envision ideas we believe can change the world, and we should do so over and over again. We shouldn’t be afraid to defend and execute on these ideas of ours, even when some of the closest people in our lives will doubt us. Just ignore them. Finally, we shouldn’t be afraid to take our ideas and our passions, and use them to inspire others, in addition to inspiring ourselves. As Steve once said, “have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”