Steve Jobs was accused of having a reality distortion field – that he would make hyperbolic statements that he could convince you of through sheer force of personality, but that were plain ridiculous when seen in the cold light of day.
Let’s look at some of these hyperbolic statements. From Fortune magazine, on the release of Toy Story by his Pixar studio in 1994: “We believe it’s the biggest advance in animation since Walt Disney started it all with the release of Snow White 50 years ago,” gushes Jobs.” And from the same publication in 2001, on the release of the iPod: “This is the 21st-century Walkman,” boasts Jobs.” In an interview with Playboy in 1985, talking about portable computers, he said – “Wait till we do it – the power of a Macintosh in something the size of a book!” (I first came across this quote, reading the interview on my iPad.)
He liked to quote Wayne Gretzky, the great ice hockey player. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Here’s the problem with this as a prescription for the rest of us. Wayne Gretzky wasn’t just a great ice hockey player, he was by far the greatest the sport has ever seen. Sports Illustrated said, on his retirement, “Gretzky played hockey like a chess master, several steps ahead of everyone else.”
Steve Jobs was a one-of-a-kind visionary. He could see into the future. I am not Steve Jobs or Wayne Gretzky, and neither are you. We don’t have superhuman powers. The psychologist, William James said, ‘Genius…means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.’ So, there you have it. You just have to be a genius.
So what can the rest of us, the non-geniuses, do? We can try this: to see what’s happening in plain sight, to see the writing in the wall. And that is hard enough itself. When you have a lot invested in the status quo, it is very easy to be in denial. So you can understand Microsoft, for example, not wishing to believe that the iPad represented the start of the ‘post-PC’ era (another piece of Steve Jobs ‘hyperbole’ rapidly becoming true) when they had accumulated vast wealth from more than two decades of domination in PC’s. Now they are scrambling to catch up, to their huge disadvantage.
In her book Mindfulness, Ellen Langer, a social psychologist, writes, ‘To be mindless is to be trapped in a rigid world’. We are imprisoned by our set views of the world. We do many things by rote, unthinkingly, mindlessly. Mindfulness, by contrast, is about something that sounds simple but is in fact a very difficult skill: paying attention.
We don’t know where the puck is going to be. But we can try and see what is happening now – if we are prepared to look.
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