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Thursday, August 25, 2011

insights: what I learned from steve jobs

There is something called the Out of Box Experience that makes my husband giggle like a 4 year-old girl getting a new bike with handle streamers. Last week he handed me a white box with my brand new Apple iPad in it.

“Open it!” he said gleefully. “Go ahead, open it.”

I was in the middle of making the puppy’s dinner. I looked up at him and smiled “Go ahead, honey. You open it for me.”

He shook his head “No. You NEED to open this. You NEED to have the out of box experience.” L. looked at me expectantly and nodded to the box that he was pushing towards me.

“Babe, I don’t care about the out of box experience. I just want the iPad once you do whatever you need to do to it to make it actually work so when I am on the road I can Tweet, write, listen to music and occasionally look up pretty new running shoes. K?”

“You. Need. To. Open. This. Box. You. Need. To. Have. The. Out. Of. Box. Experience. Please.” I looked over at L. He was almost levitating off the floor as I nodded “OK, let’s share the out of box experience.” I put the puppy’s dinner bowl on her mat and reached for the box.

“Hands,” L. said as he led me to the sink and pulled the box away from me. Clearly, the out of the box experience was something that had to be done with clean hands only. As I washed my hands he changed the Sirius station to Frank Sinatra. We now had “Out of box experience music.” I love my husband. When he does stuff like this, something in me jumps for joy.

Once we both had freshly scrubbed hands we sat down at the kitchen table and I swear to God the clouds parted and a sunbeam shone on the clean white box.

“Open it. Open it. Open the box. Go ahead. Now. Open the box.” L. could barely sit still as he sat next to me. I realized that this was pure joy for him so I very slowly turned over the shrink wrapped box to admire it from all aspects.

“It’s very rectangle,” I said admiringly “And heavy.” I raised my eyebrows approvingly.

“Oh my God, will you please open it.” L. said exasperated. I wondered if he had slipped some jewelry in there. It was as if he was proposing again.

I slowly peeled off the shrink wrap and slid the top of the box off. And there it was. We both stared at my brand new iPad sitting perfectly couched in its box with the paperwork and the cords tucked away somewhere underneath the clean expanse of white.

“Go ahead, take it out!” Poor dude was so excited for me.  I tried to match his enthusiasm.

“Wow! It’s an iPad! It’s white! It’s shiny! I LOVE IT!”

L. looked at me skeptically “You’re making fun of me.”

“No, honey, I’m not.” I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. “I love the fact that you love the out of box experience so much. I love my new iPad. Thank you. I’ll think of you every time I’m sitting somewhere listening to “Summer Wind” on WiFi.” This was true. And then L., happy that I had the out of box experience, whisked my iPad away to his lair (office) and emerged with it soon after loaded with all my favorite apps, as well as apps I didn’t even know I wanted. (StarWalk! You can hold your iPad up to the sky and the iPad superimposes the constellations that are there along with observatory kind of music!  Tunein Radio so I can listen to Magic 106.7 from Boston!)

We sat together on the couch as I went through every app that L. had thoughtfully added to the new iPad. To be honest, I just liked watching his face as he proudly showed me what he had done to make sure I had everything I could possibly need or want on my new device. L. was right. The out of box experience was something to savor, especially this part.

When Steve Jobs announced yesterday that that he was stepping down from Apple. I realized what an important man he has been in our life and I thought about what I have learned from this innovator. I’d like to share that with you now, here.

1. When One Door Closes A Window Opens

Steve Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak founded Apple, in ten years growing the idea of doing what he loved into a $2 billion company. When he was unceremoniously fired from the company a year after the launch of the first Macintosh he didn’t stew in his own failure. In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University Jobs said

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

You can read the entire speech in the Wall Street Journal Online here.

And in that time between being fired from Apple and returning to the company he fell in love and founded two companies NeXT (later bought by Apple) and Pixar (the most successful animation studio in the world).

Jobs followed his passion and just because he was fired that didn’t mean that he STILL couldn’t do what he loved.  In the commencement address Jobs says “Something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.” The world shudders to think that had Jobs decided to just take his pile of money after he was fired and spend his days surfing in Maui that we wouldn’t have the iPhone, iPod or iPad. Perhaps instead, we would have the best damn surfboard anyone has ever invented.

2. Find What You Love and Do it The Best You Can

I was covering the movie junket for “Finding Nemo” in 2003. The press junket was being conducted at Pixar Studios which we all (my fellow affiliate reporters and I) thought was one of the coolest places we had ever been for a junket. Part of the experience included a tour of the working studio, by the enormous rendering computers, miniature statues of Pixar characters under glass, by people’s offices. We especially loved some of the offices where the creative folks had made their spaces into fantastical places including cartoon-like roofs, doors and furniture. None of us had ever seen anyplace like it. The animators were in each other’s offices talking animatedly, laughing, tilting their heads and studying HUGE monitors while wearing shorts and flip flops. This looked like the best place in the world to work. They looked happy and fulfilled.

Downstairs after the screening we walked out of the theatre and commenting about how wild it was that they were able to capture the “ocean dust”  those little particles that exist in the ocean. The movie blew our minds. It was unlike anything we had seen before. “Toy Story” was groundbreaking, of course, but there was something about the characters and the atmosphere of the story that was extraordinary. I mentioned this to a very tall, tan guy in glasses and a black turtleneck who I met in the center atrium of the studio. We spoke about the film for a couple moments and I didn’t think much of this conversation until I called L. a little later in the afternoon during a break in my interviews with the cast.

“WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY” L. asked me from his office in Seattle.

“I was talking with this guy-”

“And he was wearing a black turtleneck. Glasses? Tall?” L. asked anxiously.


“That was Steve Jobs. You talked with Steve Jobs? You talked with Steve Jobs?!” I could sense that L. was now standing in his office.

I said “I guess so. Yeah, I think that’s who it was.”

“What were your exact words to him?” I could hear L. breathing slowly.

I tried to remember exactly what I said. “I told him that I liked the movie. A lot. And that he did a really good job.”

“You told Steve Jobs that he did a good job?” I thought I could hear L. crushing a coffee cup in his hand.

“I did. Well, he did do a good job. Wait until you see the movie. It’s really amazing. There’s like this ocean dust that we’re all pretty fascinated with. Hello? Are you still there?”

I heard L. sit down and softly say “You told Steve Jobs he did a good job.”

I did. I did do that and I would still do that today. (For the record, I didn't exactly know who he was. I mean, I knew who Steve Jobs was by name but I just didn't really think about it when I was talking with him.) See, what Steve Jobs lives isn’t just about computers. It is about what he is passionate for, whether it’s how to make a better laptop, how to communicate better or how to make an animated picture that adults will treasure as well. Jobs does what he loves.

Do you do what you love? Do you give it your absolute very best every day? I admit it was easy for me to love my job when I was a celebrity interviewer. It was easy to embrace that job because it was something I loved doing. One of the reasons I loved my job was because I got to spend my days interviewing actors who for the most part were living their dreams. It was indescribable to be able to sit across from an actor who beams when he talks about his craft. To hear a story about how the crew spent weeks on a set in miserable mountains of snow in a town in the middle of nowhere that even God seemed to have forgotten and did I notice the little girl he was holding in that one scene? “She was a natural,” he said. “A goddamn 4 year-old natural. Isn’t that something?”  That is what I loved my job. I appreciate people who love what they do and decide to give it 100%. I would like to interview a garbage collector who passionately tells me he loves going to work every day because he gets to keep the streets of Manhattan clean, or a teacher who feels the reward when she sees that the idea of subtraction finally clicks in the mind of a second grader.

3. Appearance Matters

That whole out of box experience thing is not just an L. thing. There are hundreds of You Tube videos that are just about the Out of Box Experience of people opening their new Apple products. If you have ever owned an Apple product you have felt the joy of not having to remove plastic sleeves of random bits of multi-colored and sized papers/warrantees/instructions.

If you have ever had to remove a doll from her plastic and cardboard prison with manacles around her wrists and ankles, you know the unpleasant out of box experience as your daughter stares at you among the shreds of cardboard and yet Barbie is still tethered to her box by a seemingly unending amount of twist ties. Where exactly did the designers think Barbie would go?

How much better would the gift giving experience be if you could give your daughter the Barbie box and she could lift the plastic lid and start playing with her new friend without hearing daddy say words that made him put $5 in the cuss jar as mommy wrapped a Band-Aid around daddy’s cut from the mean, sharp, terrible, plastic on the front of Barbie’s cell? What if Barbie’s box then turned into a fashionable car with just a few turns turns of cardboard?

What would it be like if CD’s didn’t come wrapped in some kind of shrink wrap plastic that makes you work like a savage animal using your teeth to find just one corner of the plastic so you can just hear the song you want then and there in your car outside Target but by the time you get the CD you out you just destroyed the hard plastic shell. Cigarette and gum packages have that little tear tab that helps you out a little, why not CD’s?

Jobs said "There's an old Wayne Gretzky quote I love. 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it's been.' That's what we try to do at Apple.” It’s about innovation, making the road, not following it. Previous to Apple’s out of box experience, companies focused on the product not the packaging. Jobs decided that Apple would build a partnership with the consumers from the very moment they opened their sleek, clean box. Packaging would be forever changed by this decision.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for making the “Opening the new CD” atheletics something of the past and for the immediate gratification of downloading Adele’s new song on all my Apple products so wonderfully perfect.

I have learned from the Out of Box Experience that L. treasures so much. I bring my own cool reusable shopping bags from the Metropolitan Market whenever I go shopping. I like the way carrots and bread and tea look all tidy in these grey and white bags. I keep our shower clean and manageable with the minimum amount of girl stuff in there. Before I had multiple sets of shampoo/conditioners, bath gels, girl products that would invariably all tumble onto L.’s toes in the shower when he would reach for his boy product (shampoo and body wash all in one). I would hear the crash of the bottles followed by “Honey? You don’t need all this stuff, you know?!” I get it now.

Simplify. Make it easy, uncomplicated. Find clothing that works for you and stick with it. Find a haircut that makes you look happy and loved and keep it. Don’t overthink life.

4. Listen to Your Intuition

In the commencement address Jobs says 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.”

Listen to your heart. Listen to your intuition. I have had so many discussions with friends who ask me “What should I do? Have a baby? Leave my boyfriend? Quit my job? Etc.” Sometimes these conversations happen over and over and over with the same person. I was frustrated. I felt like a terrible friend so I created something I want to share with you, here. It is a life changing idea that has worked for every single friend I have shared this with when they had a big dilemma.

It is called THE FIVE SECOND RULE. To me, it is the secret of life.

I believe that your heart knows exactly what the answer is to a big question that you are pondering about your life. The thing is, however, the reason you get stuck is that you overthink the situation. Stop.

Here we go.

Ask yourself a question or have a friend ask you the question OUT LOUD.

For example a friend had been debating leaving her job that paid her bucket loads of money but her boss was just a horrible man. I’ve met him. He is a nightmare, Type A, backstabber, simply terrible. She would call me all the time telling me how she found out what he was saying about her, what he was doing to her life. Every week she would ask me if she should quit then give me the reasons why she should or shouldn’t.

One day, over brunch of apple pancakes I had had enough. “Stop. OK.” I looked her straight in the eyes “Do you think you should leave your job?” She looked down and started to talk “Well, I make a stupid amount of money. . .”

“No,” I said. “Should you leave your job? What is the first thing that you think? Tell me. You have five seconds.”

She locked eyes with me. “I should leave.” She smiled at me. “I should leave.” The smile got bigger. “Oh my God, I am going to leave my job.” She laughed. “How did you do that?” she asked.

“You know the answer inside but then logic jumps in and things get stupid. Your heart knows the answer. Just listen and say it out loud. The most important thing is that it has to be the absolute first thing you think of. No debating, no rationalizing. For some people it’s harder work that others. You have to keep starting over with the question bit it always works. Always.” I have had friends who have decided to adopt, move across the country, get married, change careers, go back to school all because of this 5 Second Rule. It helped them break the talk talk talk that happens in our heads.

Try this. It will freak you out how quickly you will make a decision and once it’s made you’ll feel like a weight has been lifted. It’s amazing.

So, Mr. Jobs. Thank you for helping me to remember to trust my intuition, make my life a swell out of box experience, to love what I do and to keep in mind that there is a purpose in all of this. You’ve helped us communicate face-to-face with our families back on the east coast. You have helped me lose 100 pounds by running with my iPod in hand around and around Greenlake Park and most importantly you helped me have moments like the out of box experience with my husband. You singlehandedly changed my world. Thank you. Godspeed, Steve.

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