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Vision Without Obstruction: What We Learn From Steve Jobs

Self-doubt, short-term expectations, bureaucracy. How can we pursue bold ideas without letting these everyday obstacles get in the way?

In recent days, everyone has taken the news of Steve Jobs’ resignation and illness in different ways. For me, it has conjured up admiration and curiosity. More than anything else, I have always respected Jobs’ clarity. True, the man has always shunned the status quo, but I believe his rebel ways were only a consequence of his efforts to stay true to an original vision. Jobs didn’t “think different” just for the sake of it, he just refused to conform to traditional expectations and limitations.

Some say Jobs’ possessed a “reality distortion field.” I’d argue that it was, in fact, a sense of clarity so powerful that no obstacle could get in the way of creating perfect products.Apple did not invent the mp3 player, the tablet, or the smartphone. But while other companies made compromises and took shortcuts to get to market, Jobs had a knack for sticking with his vision of what a product could and should be. I can only imagine the constant stream of obstacles he faced as Apple began to execute these ideas:

  • Material shortages and cost limitations
  • Ensuring compatibility with previous software
  • Market research with conflicting messages
  • Pre-existing patents and features from competitors
  • Marketing and sales deadlines

It must have been so seductive to stray at any moment and compromise to get it done. As people around him said, “Let’s just let that go because [fill in the great excuse here],” Jobs always somehow stayed course.Perhaps the difference between Steve Jobs and the “visionaries” at other great companies was his ability to not only see what the future of technology could be, but to work toward that vision without obstruction.

Jobs had a knack for sticking with his vision of what a product could and should be.

Obstruction is all the stuff that gets in the way of making the best possible decisions. The drive toward a “better quarter” is a frequent obstruction for CEOs when it comes to making smart long-term decisions. A bullshit legal requirement for more explanation on a product’s packaging is an obstruction to a clear marketing strategy. The desire to shave four cents from the assembly of a product is an obstruction to building it the right way.Needless to say, it’s easy to lose grasp of a bold vision once the journey begins. Most leaders tack right and left as obstacles reveal themselves, and then they arrive at an entirely different destination. Jobs was different. He had a maniacal grasp of his vision and was unwilling to let other people — even his customers — shift him off-course.

Jobs never compromised and gave us what we wanted, he stayed true to his vision and gave us what we needed.

Most leaders tack right and left as obstacles reveal themselves, and then they arrive at an entirely different destination.

In addition to the external obstacles that obstruct vision, there are also internal obstacles. These are our demons — the self-doubt, the fear of failure, and the impulse to meet others’ short-term expectations at the expense of long-term possibilities. It turns out that Jobs had a mechanism to see beyond this sort of obstacle as well. In his now legendary Stanford graduation speech in June 2005, Jobs shared insight into his personal source of clarity, helping us to understand the spectacularly gutsy decisions he made time, and time again, throughout his career. Even if you’ve read it before, read it again:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Indeed, there isn’t, and the only time we think otherwise is when this stark truth — that there is nothing to lose in staying true to what you envision — is obstructed by the froth of short-sighted hopes and fears.


The system in which we work is full of expectations cast upon us from our first breath. Every degree of success is accompanied by an equal dose of bureaucracy. Any early success that you may have only breeds higher expectations and a burden to deliver. This burden is a weight that often obstructs vision and sound judgment.Usually, it takes something extreme, even death itself, to look past obstructions and maintain clarity. Perhaps the legacy of Steve Jobs as a leader is a call for clarity. If only we could all pursue our own visions with a little less obstruction.

There are a lot of great ideas in this world, and the obstacles that get in the way are no excuse. Steve would never stand for it, and neither should we.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (82)
  • Guest

    “- A bonus that isn’t worth the extra price if you’re just looking for a work machine.”That is a very subjective statement. 

    “- For whom? I don’t need to show off when I meet with potential clients.”
    Depends on the people. An example would be people working from home. People buy furniture they like, why would a computer be any different? And let’s not forget that you are looking through your own situation, yet there are plenty of users having different ones.

    “- Even Sony has models that beat any macbook for half the price.”
    Yes, they do. They also have more expensive ones, so you still haven’t defended your original point.

    “- Used them at school some years ago and I hated every minute of it. I hate the launcher bar, expose and all those gimmicks, the file manager, the scrollbars, those colored buttons on top. The only thing good on that system is the ability to color files and folders.”
    Yet again you don’t make much sense. We are talking about usability and features and you mention the colour of buttons? Not to mention that puts you in the same category of people I am talking about – you actually do care about design.

    “- Widgets, Multitasking, A bunch of different launchers, ability to cook your own rom from scratch, etc.”
    iOS has multitasking. I am not impressed here.

    “- Yes, you can make a choice, something you can’t when you buy Apple.”
    Agreed, you can’t.

    “- Don’t care about the weight since it’s sitting on my desk most of the time. With the money I saved from buying the 1600€ mac I can buy 900€ worth of spare batteries. Regarding the looks I couldn’t care less, it’s a work machine and I use an external keyboard, mouse and 27″ screen (none of them manufactured by Apple).”
    Again, subjective. And being lighter is actually a feature – it requires some engineering. You might not care, but it is there, so the computer is priced accordingly.

    “- What I mean is that there’s a trend to put a mac on every movie, series, etc. just because they look good on film.”
    True. They also look good in real life.

    “- I don’t like choices being made for me, I like to be in control and choose from an array of 100000 of computers the one that fits me.”
    Well, here is where Apple doesn’t deliver, that’s true. But, that is a single company, so what do you expect? It’s still very good to have them as an option on the market.

  • Preemptive Placebo

    A Reality Distortion Field and a powerful sense of clarity are not mutually exclusive. 

    Personal beliefs are malleable.  They can be molded to fit the needs of the believer.  We humans have the ability to distort – or delude – ourselves into believe something even if there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.  Once we have adopted a belief we use our innate confirmation bias to seeks out evidence that supports the beliefs while at the same time undermining evidence that contradicts it. 

    Jobs did something that we should all be doing.  He set simple goals and strictly defined them  Then he aligned his beliefs to support these goals.  His confirmation bias sought out evidence to support the beliefs and shut out evidence to the contrary. 

    When he spoke he did so with the utter conviction that he was right because he focused that Reality Distortion Field on himself.  In doing so he proved that he was right, not only to himself but to all of us.     

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    great@ thanks! 

  • rohan gupte is a moron

    You’re supposed to be in a mental institution. I thought mental ward patients are not allowed internet privileges.

  • Gally644

    What a great article. To all the dreamers in the world, this is a thoughtful reminder to hold fast.

  • steve

    Now he is dead.

  • Eric Johnson MBA


  • Buddha

    And, now he is gone. R.I.P.

  • Shuttur

    He was a brilliant man

  • Elsidiop

    Thanks again and R.I.P

  • A passerby

    “The system in which we work is full of expectations cast upon us from our first breath” – great observation – breaking out of this box is what makes a Steve Jobs…

  • Culture-ist

    Unwilling to compromise, true to his vision, Jobs was and is an inspiration.  Thanks for a great write up.

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    thanks a lot for the post! very interesting and usefull! 

  • Parris Whittingham

    Reading this article, I’m reminded of a conversation with a friend about Hackers and Hustlers. These 2 archetypes seem to emerge as some of the most successful leaders in business. Steve jobs was both: a tinkerer, home-brewer and hacker + a bonafide hustler.

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    Also, be ready to explain applicable law as it relates to the case. This applies both for plaintiffs and defendants. Credits and offsets may be present for a damage value that can effect settlement negotiations. Don’t find out for the first time at the mediation what your client’s total medical expenses are as a result of an accident. Know why treatments are being discounted and the basis for same. The same applies for a breach of contract action. Don’t look to your client to explain why they have a damage claim as a result of a breach of contract.

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