Steve Jobs taught us to ‘Stay hungry. Stay foolish.’

Austin American-Statesman, October 7, 2011

Read this article online...

We will miss this iconic man's energy, inventiveness, idealism and sense of adventure. His parting words to us would undoubtedly be, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

When Steve Jobs announced in August, at age 56, that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple and Pixar, you knew his candle was burning low. Born in 1955, his candle was snuffed out Wednesday.

He faced his own mortality at the age of 48 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. A year later, the commencement speech he gave to the graduating class of Stanford University was flowered with his reflections on life. At the end, he described the back cover of the last issue of his beloved Whole Earth Catalog. Under a photo of an early-morning country road, four words were written: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” You don’t always find wisdom in simplicity, but you do in these four words.

The beginnings of the man who changed the world were hardly auspicious.

Jobs was put up for adoption when he was born, in the Silicon Valley. He attended Reed College, dropping out bored after six months. With no dorm room, he slept on the floor of friends’ rooms, returned Coke bottles for the five-cent deposit, and walked across town every Sunday for a good meal at the Hare Krishna temple. “I loved it,” he said in his address.

Now that he had dropped out, he was free to drop in on the classes that interested him. One such class was calligraphy, for which Reed was famous. “I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great,” he said. “It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.”

Poetically made with a typewriter, scissors and a Polaroid camera, the bible of the 1960s, the Whole Earth Catalog, fascinated Jobs as well. “It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions,” he said.

In 1976, when Jobs was 20 years old, he and “Woz,” technical wizard Steve Wozniak, launched Apple Computer out of Jobs’ parents’ garage. Influenced by the beautiful typography that engaged him in calligraphy class, they designed a computer with artistic fonts. With the release of the Macintosh computer in 1984, they became accidental millionaires, and Apple grew into a $2 billion company with more than 4,000 employees.

To help him run the company, he recommended someone to Apple’s board of directors, but the two executives’ visions for the company soon collided. The board sided with the new executive, and at age 30 Jobs was fired from the company he started. He was devastated, but gradually pulled himself out of it. “I had been rejected,” he said, “but I was still in love.”

He started two companies, NeXT and Pixar. The latter created the world’s first computer-animated feature film, “Toy Story,” making it the most successful animation studio in the world. NeXT was bought by Apple, and at age 40 Jobs found himself back at the computer company he started. “The technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance,” he said.

Now worth more than $300 billion, Apple plays hopscotch with Exxon Mobil for the most valuable public company in the world.

In 1987, I bought a Macintosh SE for $3,000, an amount I couldn’t really afford. It turned out to be the best investment I ever made. It simplified my children’s education, and it changed the course of my life.

He changed the culture of our global family as well. His sleek, elegant, futuristic devices have brought elegance, appreciation and accessibility of music and fingertip power to our everyday lives.

He changed the business culture, too. Sociologist Daniel Bell condemned aspirations for pleasure and self-expression as “cultural contradictions of capitalism.” But Jobs, in his turtleneck and sneakers, turned those qualities into its fuel. No one asked why he worked after he was rich; everyone understood.

We will miss this iconic man’s energy, inventiveness, idealism and sense of adventure. His parting words to us would undoubtedly be, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” The advice is oh-so Steve Jobs, and it’s wonderful counsel for us all.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident and retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews, writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.