Friday 17 February 2012

What Steve Jobs Taught Me

Let me say at the outset that I didn’t know Steve Jobs, or ever work with him.  In fact I haven’t even read the book that EVERYONE seems to be reading at the moment – his biography by Walter Isaacson.  And I don’t intend to anytime soon.  Which I guess makes me supremely unqualified to write about any lessons he taught anyone. 

But Steve Jobs did, apparently, teach me one thing. 

It doesn’t involve any form of computing, is completely unconnected to tablets or smart phones, and is so ordinary that it doesn’t even begin to give away its power. 

What is it?  It is planning in analog. 
Unusually for me, I didn’t even need to read a book to get the idea; it came in a freely downloadable pdf.  Plan in analog.  So simple, so obvious, but so, so powerful.

I happened to be working on a presentation and tried the idea out.  I replaced my much loved but very broken fountain pen with a sleek, inexpensive silver number and invested in a nice notebook (without a power pack).  And I started to write.  And draw bubbles.  And more bubbles.  Turned the page and did it again.  For hours on end. 
It is notable how the brain is free to think creatively when it doesn’t get caught up worrying about point sizes, or whether boxes are lined up.  I thought about my BIG IDEAS.  I criticized them, turned the page and started again.  I have pages and pages of mind maps, notes, crossings out and ideas that run off the edge of the page.  Pen and paper isn’t nearly as flexible or forgiving of mistakes as my Office software, but it is superb at freeing the mind.

I hope I produced a better presentation with my inspiration from Steve Jobs.  I know I created it more quickly than if I hadn’t done my pen and paper planning.  I guess I won’t know until it closes a sale or makes an entire audience stand up to applaud. 

The process has taught me an important lesson – pre-planning on paper should be given plenty of time.  It produces better structure, better ideas, and hopefully a better end result.  It certainly saves time. 

I shall credit Steve Jobs with the lesson.  It’s not as earth-shattering as the iPhone or iPad, but looking at his presentations I can well believe he devoted considerable time to worrying about big ideas before worrying about how it might look on the screen.

Watch “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” by Camine Gallo here:  His book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience” is also well worth a read.  OK – I’ll admit to having read that one!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Want to do Great Things? Be Under-Employed

My yoga teacher was always telling me to slow down: “What’s the rush? Put your suitcases down and let the train carry you along”.  I was always the one late to the class, worrying about something and fidgeting to leave before the end.  “We are human beings”, he would calmly point out, “not human doings”.

“Just being” was, and still is, very hard for me.  While I could hardly sit still for a moment, he seemed to spend his days taking long walks in the woods, practicing yoga and volunteering at the local hospice.  His serenity and calmness was a world away from my life of busy activity.

But rush doesn’t accomplish much.  Running around trying to get lots done, without time to think or rest, leads to burn out and confusion.  James Watson, who together with Francis Crick discovered DNA, said “It’s necessary to be slightly under-employed if you are to do something significant”.  I’ve always found that a rather shocking and controversial idea when I try to make good use of every moment.  Their breakthrough was one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the last Century, and laid the foundation stones for molecular biology.

Beethoven also understood the need to let his mind relax and come back refreshed.  He worked only from sunrise until two or three o’clock in the afternoon.  His mornings also included a number of breaks outdoors, where he “worked while walking.”  He never worked in the evenings.

Beethoven struggled with his compositions, working and reworking themes over and over again, yet he created some of the most beautiful music ever composed. 

Whilst it is counter-intuitive, it seems that making time to do nothing pays off; even if your ambitions are less lofty than discovering DNA or writing a symphony.