31 October 2011


by Andy Weddington
Monday, 31 October 2011

"And no, we don't know where it will lead. We just know there's something much bigger than any of us here." Steve Jobs

I just finished reading Walter Isaacson's biography on Steve Jobs (1955-2011). I do not write book reviews but felt compelled to pen a few thoughts.

First, recommend the book--a terrific account of a controversial American icon.

The public persona, persona presented by media, and the private life of the quirky genius beyond interesting. Mr. Isaacson said Jobs wanted his story told honestly, that he was free to speak with whomever he pleased, and did not require the book meet with his approval. That is clear. The book is flattering and it is not so flattering.

Like us all, Jobs had his wonderful qualities and idiosyncrasies.

In short, Jobs was an enigma--a complex human with little patience for complexity. He sought simplicity. He demanded simplicity. He delivered simplicity.

Though an exceptional businessman, he saw himself as an artist. That, considering what he created--from devices to movies, makes perfect sense. The profits, a fortunate consequence--not principle objective--of his work, allowed him to pursue even greater art. And that he did, with passion and uncompromising and unapologetic drive.

True artists create. They point out to us what we do not see. Jobs went further. He created things people did not yet realize they needed. And he created like no one else could. In fact, others tried and failed.

As a painter obsessed with simplicity as to shape, color, and design I can relate to how Jobs went about realizing his vision(s). He believed the work environment was critical to product development. That is, he insisted buildings be designed (and staffed) with an open flow that fostered interaction between employees--especially employees that did not usually interact. He believed good ideas and problem-solving came from impromptu encounters and conversations--a model completely foreign to most big outfits that are built around stove-pipes and some that, for sundry reasons, forbid sharing. This belief of his struck a major chord and triggered a memory.

Years ago I advised a general responsible for moving a headquarters department, of several divisions, to a new facility to order that workstations be filled randomly--alphabetically by height was the idea. And I was not kidding. The reason for the suggestion was to take advantage of timing and to overcome long-standing practices--like the obstacles Jobs aimed to prevent--and crush unnecessary institutional controls hampering work. The idea was entertained. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. And, as I recall, it was because of next level down resistance. "Chaos," they cried. With the move, the department, maintaining division integrity, occupied the new territory and stale business practices continued as usual. The outcome--a missed opportunity to force culture change and build a new internal communication net and workflow--that is, people interacting--that could not otherwise be purposively designed. Some thought I was insane. But the real insanity was not exploiting the opportunity. For out of chaos falls order. Undoubtely, Jobs, considering his explosive personality, would have been incredulous if witnessing that move. No doubt. And I still shake my head.

What else to say? Not much. I don't want to ruin the book. Now more than ever I appreciate the life work of Steve Jobs. A strong personality of uncompromising standards, he gave us beautiful, marvelous things to make life easier and more enjoyable.

Steve Jobs was an artist but no ordinary artist. He saw differently. He thought differently. He solved problems differently. And he created differently. Only time will tell if his company, Apple, will endure without him--their taskmaster, head cheerleader, and visionary; their guru. We saw once, without him, they floundered and nearly died.

I wish he was still with us. For I'd like to ask him if he had any idea just how much iPad is going to change art--how it's thought about and created. I wrote in an earlier commentary iPad is going to take art in directions never imagined. That is happening. And it's only the beginning--the beginning of the beginning. My bet is Steve Jobs would be amazed by what artists are doing on iPad. And what he saw would surely spark all sorts of new ideas.

So we are left only to wonder what brilliant ideas would have come from him in five, ten, or twenty years.

Life goes on.

Post Script

"And one more thing." Steve Jobs

Author's Endnote

Just this morning I received an email from a stranger who saw some of my iPad paintings over the weekend. In their words, they were surprised, loved them, and intend to buy some. They've not seen anything yet.

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