Steve Jobs' Life By Design: Lessons to be Learned from His Last Lecture
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Steve Jobs' Life By Design: Lessons to be Learned from His Last Lecture

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by George Beahm

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On June 12, 2005, Steve Jobs gave his first—and only—commencement address, to the 114th graduating class at Stanford University, an audience of approximately 23,000. They witnessed history: Jobs' 22-minute prepared speech subsequently reached 26 million online viewers worldwide. It is by far the most popular commencement address in history, framed


On June 12, 2005, Steve Jobs gave his first—and only—commencement address, to the 114th graduating class at Stanford University, an audience of approximately 23,000. They witnessed history: Jobs' 22-minute prepared speech subsequently reached 26 million online viewers worldwide. It is by far the most popular commencement address in history, framed with "three stories" that succinctly summed up the most important lessons Jobs learned in life. Life-changing lessons, he explained, can only be connected when looking back, which he had done in preparation for his talk.

Steve Jobs' Life by Design starts with Jobs' own words in the text of his talk and expands outward from there. In the address, Jobs gave us the dots, but he didn't have the luxury of time to connect them. So much about his life, his viewpoint, and his personal and business philosophies were mentioned but not explained. We know what he said, but what actually did he mean? What can we learn from him?

This book connects those dots. We see Jobs' life and career through his own eyes, in context, and in proper perspective. His process of looking back illuminated his life—and by doing so, he serves as an inspiration to illuminate our lives as well.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Your time is limited, 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.” —Steve Jobs’ commencement address to Stanford graduates on June 12, 2005

“I've spent much of my working life as an ‘imagineer' with the Walt Disney Company. As George Beahm's Steve Jobs' Life By Design makes clear, there are a number of striking similarities and parallels between Walt Disney and Steve Jobs: their passion for innovation and excellence, their willingness to trust their gut feelings and to take creative risks, and their ability to recognize, recruit and manage talent. Genius, in both cases.” —Tim Kirk, 22-year veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering, overall senior designer for Tokyo DisneySea

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Steve Jobs' Life By Design

Lessons to be Learned From His Last Lecture

By George Beahm

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2014 George Beahm
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-45177-4


Great Expectations

"I decided to drop out"


Even before Steve Jobs was born, his biological parents had high educational aspirations for him, and no wonder: Abdulfattah "John" Jandali's own father placed a premium on education. It is not surprising then that John Jandali went on to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Jobs' biological mother, Joanne Schieble, a graduate student in speech therapy, also placed a premium on education. But because her father objected to her dating, much less marrying, a Syrian man, she put her unborn child up for adoption, with a proviso: The adopting parents had to be college graduates.

In a twist of fate, the college graduates who were set to adopt Jandali and Schieble's child had their hearts set on a girl, so when Schieble gave birth to a boy, they declined to adopt. The boy then went to the next couple on the waiting list, Paul and Clara Jobs, presumed by Schieble to be college graduates. When Schieble found out that both had dropped out of high school, she extracted a promise from them: Her son would have to go to college. Paul and Clara Jobs reluctantly agreed, but that eventual promise would prove to be an economic hardship for the blue-collar family who wanted to adopt a child.

Born on February 24, 1955, the child was named Steven Paul Jobs.


Growing up in Los Altos, south of San Francisco, Steve Jobs had no lack of colleges to choose from, including nearby Stanford University. Stanford justifiably enjoys legendary status in Silicon Valley's history because of its pioneering role in computer breakthroughs: Internet protocols (TCP/IP) were developed by Professor Vinton Cerf; two alumni, Jerry Yang and David Filo, founded Yahoo!; and two graduate students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, developed the groundbreaking page-rank algorithms for an early version of Google. Stanford cited other key Silicon Valley companies with a strong connection to the university, including Cisco Systems, Intuit, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems.

Stanford also counted among its alumni the founders of Hewlett-Packard, whose suburban garage is, according to the university's Web site, "the Birthplace of Silicon Valley." A little-known fact is that Steve Jobs, when he was twelve, had an early encounter with Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard:

When he was in eighth grade, Steve Jobs decided to build a frequency counter for a school project and needed parts. Someone suggested that he call Bill Hewlett. Finding a William Hewlett in the telephone book, the 12-year-old Jobs called and asked, "Is this the Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard?"

"Yes," said Bill. Jobs made his request. Bill spent some time talking to him about his project.

Several days later, Jobs went to HP and picked up a bag full of parts that Bill had put together for him.

Subsequently, Jobs landed a summer job at HP between his freshman and sophomore years at Homestead High.

On the face of it, Stanford University might have been a good fit for Jobs, but as he later explained: "I wanted something that was more artistic and interesting."

Moreover, Stanford was an expensive school and would have strained the budget of Jobs' adoptive parents. The educational alternative was a state-supported California college with lower tuition fees. But California schools held no interest for Jobs. Instead, after a visit to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, he set his mind to enroll there. His adoptive parents had learned early on that their smart but stubborn son was the classic immovable object. Recognizing a lost cause, his parents surrendered to the inevitable and braced themselves for the expense of out-of-state college tuition, room, and board.

The promise Paul and Clara Jobs made to Joanne Schieble, their son's biological mother, would be realized: Her son would go to college — regardless of the cost.


There was, as Steve Jobs found out, a big difference between how he viewed his role as a student at Reed College and the college's expectations of him. Jobs put a lot of emphasis on the "liberal" and the "arts" of Reed College, but the college placed its emphasis on its demanding curriculum. According to the college Web page: "Reed provides one of the nation's most intellectually rigorous undergraduate experiences, with a highly structured program balancing broad distribution requirements and in-depth study in a chosen academic discipline."

That wasn't what Steve Jobs expected. "They are making me take all these courses," he complained to his friend Steve "Woz" Wozniak, an electronics wizard whom Jobs had met through a mutual friend, Bill Fernandez, when he was in high school. To which Woz replied nonchalantly, "Yes, that's what they do in college."

Jobs' unrealistic expectations of college — as a place to meet girls and learn whatever he wanted on his own terms — were shattered when reality set in. After six frustrating months of marching to the beat of the same drummer as his fellow freshmen, Jobs realized he was out of step with them. Living a bohemian lifestyle, he bristled at the academic constraints. Clearly, the path Jobs' adoptive parents had agreed to with his birth mother was not the one he wanted to follow.

A college degree is widely considered to be a necessary ticket to success, but according to Jeremy Kahn in a Fortune magazine article, "for many people, the value of a college education is in friendships made (or forgone) and new roads taken (or not). In this sense, the economic arguments may miss the point." Parents, Kahn explained, "want to know whether it's worth it for their little darling. And that's a question economists can't answer."

In Jobs' case, the point was moot because he would eventually drop out permanently from Reed College, rejecting formal education in favor of informal education, recalling Mark Twain's wry comment: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." For Jobs, observation and experience — life itself — would be his teachers.

Have the courage to live your life, not the one imagined for you by well-intentioned parents or other authority figures. You will know what's best.


Seize the Day

"Your time is limited."

"Time is on my side," crooned the Rolling Stones, but it's not a sentiment Steve Jobs shared. At an early age, Jobs was acutely aware of life's fleeting nature: Unlike money, of which he had plenty later in life, time could not be replaced.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Jobs believed in the philosophy inherent in carpe diem, or "seize the day." It means living life to its fullest every day. The phrase comes from theOdesby Horace, a Latin poet.

Jobs' first girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, explained that "Steve always believed he was going to die young. I think that's part of what gave his life such urgency. He never expected to live past 45."


Bruce J. Klein, director of the nonprofit Immortality Institute, wrote that "with few exceptions, 30,000 days is the average human lifespan — 40,000 if you're lucky."

Steve Jobs wasn't so lucky. He lived only 20,984 days.

But when Jobs died, he was at the top of his game, and he squeezed time like a fruit to extract every sweet drop.

Impatient by nature and inclination, Jobs chafed at schedules set by others for him. For instance, after enrolling at Reed College and realizing the administration had radically different ideas on what direction his education should take, Jobs simply stopped taking the scheduled classes. Instead, he audited classes of interest. He strongly felt that academia existed to serve him, and not vice versa.


Twenty-nine years old when he was interviewed by Playboy magazine, Jobs was, at that time, the youngest person on Forbes list of richest Americans, with a net worth (mostly in Apple Computer stock) estimated at $450 million.

In May 1985, three months after the Playboy interview hit the newsstands, Jobs was relieved of his duties as the head of the Macintosh division, after losing a power struggle with his mentor, John Sculley, and started a computer company called NeXT. He also bought a computer division, later renamed Pixar, from filmmaker George Lucas. Jobs took Pixar public soon after the first Toy Story movie was released, then eventually sold the company to Disney and became a paper billionaire, based on stock valuation.

Riding high on his success with Pixar, in 1997 Jobs was the proverbial comeback kid when he was wooed by Gil Amelio, who was then Apple's chief executive officer (CEO). Jobs returned as interim CEO but soon took the job permanently. In his second act at Apple, Jobs kick-started a demoralized company that had fundamentally lost its way. It was Jobs' subsequent products — iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad — that saved Apple from becoming pulped.

* * *

Until the end of his days, Jobs believed in seizing the day. Masayoshi Son, CEO of a Japanese telecommunications company called Softbank, recounted a telling anecdote. Son said that he was in a meeting with Jobs' successor, Apple CEO Tim Cook, who was forced to cut it short when he was called to duty. According to Son, Cook apologized and said that "Steve is calling me because he wants to talk about [our] next product." Cook left the meeting to go straight to Jobs' house.

That was the day before Jobs died.

No one would have expected Jobs, at that point in his life, to concern himself with business matters. But he did so because it was important to him.

He seized the day. He lived every day as if it were his last.

* * *

Jobs' life philosophy was, in the words of James Dean, "Dream as if you will live forever; live as if you will die today."

By living that philosophy to the max, Jobs simply accomplished more. He revolutionized not only one business but several, as musician Bono pointed out. "He changed music. He changed film. He changed the personal computer. It's a wonderful encouragement to people who want to think differently, that's where artists connect with him."

Jobs' industriousness stemmed from a saying he first encountered as a teenager. Though restated by many people over the years, the original dates back to Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who wrote that one should "live each day as if it were thy last — without haste, or pause, or sloth, or hypocrisy."

Steve Jobs did just that.

* * *

Each day is a treasure, so treasure each day.


Cultivate Your Curiosity

"... my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on."

Two Japanese landmarks — Mount Fuji and Kyoto's Temple of the Dragon at Peace, a Zen garden at Ryo¯an-ji — can be found among the desktop images in Maverick, the current Mac operating system.

As with all things Apple, their inclusion is deliberate.

Though Jobs never climbed Mount Fuji, he loved walking among the rock gardens in Kyoto, which he visited on a regular basis, often in the company of his children, who knew it was one of his favorite places.

What's little known is that Jobs' curiosity regarding Japanese culture was instrumental in helping to shape and reinforce his business philosophies. His interest was also reflected in the products themselves — simple, elegant, small, and beautiful.

* * *

In his Stanford address, Jobs tells an oft-repeated story about how his casual interest in calligraphy, which was a result of a chance encounter at Reed College, led to the Macintosh's fonts. It's a great story, but so well known that Stanford graduates likely knew it already. For that reason, it's more instructive to look at one of his other interests that, over the years, grew to become important — Japan.

* * *

Innately curious about Japanese culture and business, Jobs incorporated Nippon values into his own life, personally and professionally. A detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this book, but hitting the high points provides food for thought: Just as Jobs straddled technology and the liberal arts, he comfortably straddled Eastern and Western culture, Japanese and American.

Food: A vegetarian in college and, later, a pescetarian, Jobs loved fresh sushi (especially eel) and soba (noodles).

Sushi, which is a visual and gastronomic treat, requires the freshest seafood, finest rice, and special vinegar to make each bite a savory delight.

Similarly, soba, made from buckwheat flour, is prepared on the spot and is served hot or cold; hot with a broth, cold with a dipping sauce.

It stands to reason that while in Japan, Jobs took full advantage of the local cuisine because of its authenticity and great taste.

Back home, Jobs frequented two Palo Alto restaurants — Jinsho and Kaygetsu — where the food was carefully prepared by experienced Japanese chefs. (When Kaygetsu closed, Jobs wooed its chef to Apple's cafeteria, to the delight of its employees who shared Jobs' enthusiasm for authentic Japanese cuisine.)

Clothing: During a business trip to Japan in the company of John Sculley, Jobs asked Sony chairman and cofounder Akio Morita why the employees all wore uniforms. Morita explained that after the war, the Japanese people had very little to wear. Companies provided uniforms so workers would not feel ashamed; they'd have presentable clothes to wear to work.

That led Jobs to commission a uniform for Apple employees, a jacket designed by Issey Miyake. American employees, though, bristled and voiced their opposition to wearing any uniform, and Jobs permanently retired that idea. For himself, he commissioned Miyake to design a turtleneck shirt; worn with pressed Levi's jeans without a belt and New Balance sneakers, it became his trademark look, which is what he wore most of the time, on and off work.

Miyake made one hundred shirts for Jobs, filling his closet. Zen-like in its simplicity, Jobs' simple wardrobe was functional and distinctive.

Japanese craftsmanship: In the mid-1990s, Steve Jobs and his wife went to a Kyoto gallery where they saw the work of a porcelain artist named Yukio Shakunaga. Jobs made three trips to the one-week show, and bought several pieces.

Though he didn't speak Japanese, and Shakunaga's English was broken, they conversed using pen and paper. Jobs was curious about the white clay called hakudo that the artist exclusively used; he dug it out of the ground himself, unlike other porcelain artists who were content to simply buy their clay.

Jobs ordered more pieces for his collection when he returned to California.

Jobs' fascination with Shakunaga's manufacturing process recalls a comment former Apple CEO John Sculley made about Jobs: "He was a person of huge vision. But he was also a person that believed in the precise detail of every step. He was methodical and careful about everything — a perfectionist to the end."

Sound Business Practices

Jobs' inquisitiveness also led him to innovate his business. He studied Akio Morita's career to see how he could improve Apple's products. As Jobs was fond of saying (a comment attributed to Pablo Picasso), good artists copy but great artists steal. During their 1985 trip to Japan, John Sculley and Jobs toured Sony's high-tech factories that inspired the Macintosh factories. Recalls Sculley, "Steve's point of reference was Sony at the time. He really wanted to be Sony. He didn't want to be IBM. He didn't want to be Microsoft. He wanted to be Sony." Sculley elaborated:

We used to go visit Akio Morita and he had really the same kind of high-end standards that Steve did and respect for beautiful products. I remember Akio Morita gave Steve and me each one of the first Sony Walkmans. None of us had ever seen anything like that before because there had never been a product like that. This is 25 years ago and Steve was fascinated by it. The first thing he did with his was take it apart and he looked at every single part. How the fit and finish was done, how it was built.

Jobs' curiosity also extended to the Japanese way of business, which recognizes that because the customer is king, the customer experience is of paramount importance. Morita explains the Japanese way of taking care of the customer in his autobiography, Made in Japan:

[B]ecause Japan's consumers are fussy, we cannot sell anything that is not of high quality. After-sales service is crucial; we will still make house calls, and the company that lets up on any aspect of production or delivery or service will lose customers. An American in the cosmetics business was shocked to hear that it is not unusual for a wholesaler in Japan to send a single lipstick by messenger all the way across the city to a retailer with a waiting customer. If he didn't, it was explained, he might lose the retail shop's business.

Jobs adopted the Japanese way of doing business and improved on it, taking the best of those philosophies to integrate them into his own.

A careful study of Morita's autobiography also shows Japanese sensibilities that influenced Jobs' thinking and, by extension, Apple's. Clearly, Morita and Jobs were of like minds. Here are some examples from Morita's book that could just as easily have come from Jobs' playbook.


Excerpted from Steve Jobs' Life By Design by George Beahm. Copyright © 2014 George Beahm. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

George Beahm is a New York Times bestselling author, which includes I, Steve: Steve Job in His Own Words, which sold in dozens of languages worldwide. He has written more literary companions than any other writer, and has published more than thirty books on popular culture subjects, including Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Indiana Jones, Anne Rice, Patricia Cornwell, the Big Bang Theory television show, Caribbean Pirates, censorship, and several books on Stephen King. Beahm served on active duty, in the National Guard, and the Army Reserve.

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Steve Jobs' Life By Design: Lessons to be Learned from His Last Lecture 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We should all read and think about this extremely touching book. &ldquo;Life by Design&rdquo; is a very clearly written book summarizing Steve Jobs&rsquo; life lessons for the rest of us. It is easy to understand the messages which were deepest in his heart. The book points the way ahead for all of us.