The short answer is, a LOT! But here are three key things that Jobs particularly illustrates about giftedness.
The masterful biography of Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson and published in 2011 yields a treasure trove of evidence regarding Steve Jobs’ particular form of giftedness. Anyone who needs inspiration for whether it’s still possible to live a productive life ought to read (or better yet, listen to) that book.
It’s not that you should try to “become” like Steve Jobs. That’s a fool’s errand. You can’t become him, nor should you, nor would he want you to (see below).
No, the real takeaway from studying the life of someone like Jobs is the way he illustrates giftedness in action in the real world.
You don’t have to be into computers or technology or marketing or vegetarianism or the Beatles or anything else that interested Jobs. But you can learn a lot about engaging the world through your own uniqueness by observing how Jobs engaged the world through his.
Here are three themes that seem especially prominent in Isaacson’s tale about the legendary Steve Jobs:
(1) Your giftedness is a form of love
On the surface, it may seem obvious what I’m talking about here: if your work makes good use of your giftedness, you’ll end up loving your work.
Jobs himself told the 2005 graduating class at Stanford: “You’ve got to find what you love. . . . Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
I totally concur. Jobs is corroborating a core premise that anyone who knows anything about finding productive and meaningful work has said, or is saying: find work that fits you. Work that fits you is work that asks you to do what you instinctively love to do and are born to do.
However, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Rather, this: when you use your giftedness for the purpose for which it was given—namely, to bring benefit to the world—you are expressing a potent and practical form of love.
What do I mean by love? Well, at its core, love involves acting for the good of someone else. It means doing that which is best and most kind to them. In everyday terms we would call it “doing the right thing” toward others.
Steve Jobs had a gift for perceiving what people really wanted, at least in terms of technology. He was the quintessential innovator/inventor. That is, he recognized that when it comes to a new gadget, people don’t know what they want because they’ve never seen it before. His genius was to pinpoint what people would want a new gadget to do, how they’d want it to look, and how they’d want to interact with it. Then he’d deliver that gadget.
According to my description of love above, delivering such gadgets was Jobs’ own unique way of expressing love to the world. Because he really did care about the stuff Apple turned out. He wanted “insanely great” products that would change the world for the better (as he perceived a better world).
If someone has a gift, the most loving thing they can do with it is exercise it when it is called for. Look around today. You’ll see places everywhere that cry out for the exercise of someone’s unique strengths. Strengths for causing learning to take place. Or for bringing about healing. Or for creating jobs. Or some other worthy outcome.
What is your giftedness all about? If you get that gift into play in a meaningful way, you will contribute to the world, and someone will benefit. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?
But what if you withhold that gift? For example, what if you just “settle” by taking any old job that pays and put your giftedness on the shelf? That doesn’t seem very loving, to me. Because someone will be missing out on what you have to offer.
(2) Your giftedness is powerful, but limited
Steve Jobs’ giftedness was dazzling, to say the least. He will end up on the Mount Rushmore of American inventors, for sure.
But for all of his genius, Steve Jobs was not omnipotent or omni-competent. There were many things he couldn’t do. Even Jobs had limits.
For that reason, he wisely (or perhaps fortuitously) combined his gifts with those of others. The result was spectacular. In fact, game-changing.
Everyone knows the story of the original Apple computer. The real brains behind the inner workings of that machine was Steve Wozniak. Jobs' part was to conceive of what was needed, and then when Wozniak rendered it, to “sell” that product to the marketplace.
Likewise, thousands of engineers and code writers and marketing people and others have lent their giftedness to the Apple cause over the years, creating what Apple has become and what it offers today.
Such is the genius of the modern corporation. It aggregates the giftedness of many people to accomplish things that go all out of proportion to what any individual could accomplish on their own.
The lesson here is not that one has to work for a corporation to make a contribution to the world. Rather that each of us needs other people who possess gifts we don’t have. Finding and collaborating with those people may lead to results that go far beyond anything we could have imagined.
As the saying goes: none of us is as smart as all of us.
(3) Your giftedness always has a potential dark side
An artist has to stay in control of the creative process. By that measure, Jobs was an artist through and through. Virtually every page of Isaacson’s book offers evidence that if nothing else, Jobs was bound and determined to control everything he touched.
Now when you’re carrying out a vision for creating something that no one has ever seen or experienced before, retaining control of the vision is vital. After all, you’re the only one who can “see” what the finished product is supposed to look like. Others may work at rendering your vision. But only you can say whether their results genuinely bring that vision to life.
But every form of giftedness has a potential dark side to it. It can create unintended consequences for other people.
In Jobs’ case, his demand for control led to countless problems in his working and personal relationships. Isaacson’s book offers countless examples of Jobs berating people at Apple whose efforts fell short of what he wanted. Some of those outbursts merely offended people. Others seriously wounded, and doubtless even damaged, people. And many of his tirades produced nothing but resignations, conflicts, the undoing of deals, and permanently alienated relationships. So sad! And so needless!
But don’t judge Jobs too harshly. Every form of giftedness has a dark side. Yours included. Do you know what the unintended consequences are of you being you?
If you do know, what are you doing to manage those pesky habits in order to put boundaries around them, or at least to mitigate the trouble they cause?
Question: When you think about Steve Jobs, what’s the biggest lesson you take from his life?
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