Steve Jobs: The Visionary in the Man (in the Machine)

Just when you thought his influence was going to fade from our collective minds, another infusion of interest in Steve Jobs is coming our way with the upcoming release of the documentary, Steve Jobs - The Man in the Machine, on September 4 and after that, Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin on October 9.

Why is it that Jobs still compels us to understand the why and how of him four years after his death?

Perhaps one answer is that Jobs fit in nowhere and belonged nowhere and took pride in it. That's because he belonged to the future. And it wasn't just the future, it was our future.

What makes that so captivating is that the world sorely needs people that can see into the future to counteract the wide-ranging trend to be too focused on closing a deal or winning an election and refusing to look beyond that.

Ironically, due to his believing his own reality distortion version of life and with it, his arriving too late to fight his cancer conventionally, he never got to live into that future.

How did Steve Jobs See into the Future?

Something that is a little off topic is that people tell me I'm a "people hacker." I'm not fully sure what that means, except that during one of the lowest times in my life when I didn't believe I had a future or value to the world, a special person/life saver/game changer hacked into me.

When he did, he saw a future and purpose for me that I didn't and maybe even a reason for living that I couldn't (if it interests you, you can read more about that story here).

But I digress.

I tell you the above, because someone hacking into me is what enabled me earlier in my career to hack into the despair of suicidal and violent patients and help them let go of their destructive impulses. I did that for nearly thirty years as a high stakes psychotherapist. I'm continuing those efforts more broadly with programs aimed at reducing gun violence.

However, in addition to hacking into the darker parts of human nature, I have now added hacking genius.

My first case was with someone I never met, but have gotten to know from his inside out and his genius.

That person was Steve Jobs.

What follows is what I have noticed (you'll soon see the significance of that term) about Jobs. I'm hoping the upcoming movies and renewed interest in Jobs will corroborate these observations and help all of us to learn about not only how Steve Jobs became Steve Jobs, but how we might emulate a process he unconsciously followed so that we too can see into the future.

One of the seminal characteristics of Jobs is that he had a joy in discovery that was equal to his joy of discovery. A joy in discovery is characterized by an unfettered curiosity and intellectual/experiential wanderlust that Jobs exemplified in many ways including in his dropping out of college to audit the classes he wanted to take, to his interest in calligraphy and thereby design and style, to his interest in drugs and to exploring the world including travel to India.

It was his joy in discovery without a coexisting joy in execution (that Bill Gates possessed), that led more to his early failures and his career immolation when John Sculley, the person he grabbed from PepsiCo to run Apple, got the Apple Board to choose him over Jobs.

I think all visionaries share such a joy in discovery.

A central tendency in his joy in discovery is that Jobs was what playwright Saul Bellow referred to as a "first class noticer." Noticing is different than looking, watching and seeing. When you do those you are an observer, you are passive. When you notice, you bond to what you notice. You participate, you become one with it. You experience wonder and also when you notice, you do so without memory or desire. That means you don't rush to fit what you notice into either a past preset limiting bias (memory) or a present or future limiting bias (desire). Instead you meld into the essence of what you're noticing.

One of Jobs' early realizations, and not unique to him, was that technology and computing was not going away and that it was just a matter of time before individuals in addition to larger companies would catch onto the excitement of it.

One of the things Jobs noticed as he arced away from the world of Big Blue and the PC side was that the vast majority of end users didn't give a hoot about how or why technology worked. They just wanted it to be simple, reliable and if possible beautiful (the latter to counter the cumbersome heaviness of what technology represented which was so amazingly captured in the iconic 1984 video commercial announcing the introduction of the Macintosh).

Jobs didn't know how to build it, but he would certainly recognize it when he saw it which often resulted in his kicking off something at great expense such as the "on/off" button on an iPad when that didn't suit the vision he had in his mind's eye.

There were many breakthrough moments in Jobs' career. The one that I have talked about and included in my presentation, "The Genius of Steve Jobs - How to Think Like a Disruptor" is an example of his ability to morph form and function. It was his discovery of the Graphical User Interface (mouse) at Xerox Parc.

There is a clip from what was called "The Lost Interview" in which Jobs explains how he was blinded by it when he first saw it, that it was the best thing he'd ever seen in his life, that Xerox's version was flawed, but essentially worked and finally that within ten minutes of seeing it, he knew that all computers would run that way someday. Realizing what he could do with it, he also no doubt thought to himself, "I gotta have that," and because Xerox could not see past being a "copier company," they gave it to him.

It was not just another breakthrough moment for Jobs. I believe it was the seminal moment when he went from hustler to visionary. It was the moment when he saw how people would interact with technology in a much more visceral way than just using it.

When I watched it, the four-step unconscious formula that Jobs followed and that all entrepreneurs revealed itself to me.

Quite simply it was: "Whoa!", "Wow!", "Hmmm", "Yes!". In Jobs case regarding his visit to Xerox Parc:

  1. "Whoa" - "I was blinded by the first thing I saw" (a.k.a "I can't believe what I just saw")
  2. "Wow!" - "It was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life!" (a.k.a. "I was astonished and amazed and fully engrossed instead of distracted"
  3. "Hmmm..." - "It was flawed, but it worked and they'd essentially gotten it right" (a.k.a. "I couldn't believe what I'd be able to do with this and this was too good not to use")
  4. "Yes!" - "Within ten minutes I knew all computers would run this way someday" (a.k.a. "If we add this to computers, all consumers will be able and want to interact and play with something as daunting as a computer")

This is the formula that led Jobs to think "I gotta have it." It is also the formula Apple now intuitively follows that creates "gotta have it" in every customer lined up around the block outside an Apple store when one of their new products becomes available.

The formula also created a seminal moment for me. Prior to discovering it, I had been giving presentations based on my international best-selling book, Just Listen", including ones to tech and healthcare CEO roundtables put on by Adaptive Business Leaders.

The talk on communication went well to these entrepreneurs and I received a 4.3 out of 5.0. It was an excellent rating considering the audience, that didn't suffer fools gladly.

However after giving that talk, I hacked into the collective mind of this kind of group and "just listened." Rather than learning how to be better at communicating with difficult people, I figured they'd be much more interested in learning a formula for creating a "gotta have it" response in their customers, clients and patients as well as creating a "gotta work there" response in talent they'd like to recruit.

My first "Creating 'Gotta Have It!'" presentation received all 5.0's out of 5.0's. That was a rating I'd never received from such a group. It caused me to go, "Whoa", "Wow", "Hmmm", "Yes" as well as the President of ABL, Mimi Grant, who thereupon asked me to present to all nine of her groups.

It didn't stop there. After seeing the response the formula triggered in those roundtables, it caused me to create a company called the Goulston Group, where "We create 'gotta have it!'" and the demand for our services has taken off to help companies create it for them.

Try the formula in your company on your products and your services. Look at any and everything a potential customer sees, hears or reads about your company. Do all of those cause your customers or clients to go "Whoa!" "Wow!" "Hmmm" "Yes!" (where "Yes" is "buy" or "hire")? Because if that isn't happening, they're going, "Nah, never mind, pass." And if that is happening, fix it!

Also try the formula to see how your employees speak about your company to their peers, amongst who is talent you'd like to recruit. When that outside talent hears from your people about your company, do they think, "gotta work there!" If not, fix that!

Finally, as the Steve Jobs documentary and scripted movie come out, notice how many times in those films that Jobs experiences "Whoa!", "Wow!", "Hmmm", "Yes!" and then creates it in his customers and the tech world.

And if the two upcoming films are able to create "Whoa!", "Wow!", "Hmmm", "Yes!" in their audiences, then they will get their wish, namely that they've created two films that will cause moviegoers to think, I "gotta see it!"