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Productivity

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)
  • Código Marketing

    Se te agradece enormemente el post, Jobs es un claro ejemplo a seguir

  • Brazilian

    Really? It’s all about the money. Money doesn’t talk, it swears.

  • Dennis Salvatier

    Scott, I had the pleasure of meeting you earlier this year and this article is easily the most inspiring written piece I’ve read all year. Death IS a motivator. As someone who had a near death experience recently, I can attest to the true nature of our mortality being a driving force and Steve Jobs is a greater example of that. Thank you!

  • Guest

    Don’t blame a company for being a company. That’s how it is. In fact, Apple is one of the less litigious ones, it just gets the coverage.

  • Guest

    Where are those products for 1/3 the price? Show me a few. And disagreed about Gates too.

  • Jean-Pierre

    Wonderfully put. Taking a bold stance usually results in some folks loving you and others not so much. I am personally a fan of his vision and ability to make things happen in concert with Apple’s highest ideals. I am pretty sure that none of the critics if given a chance would turn down a free Mac product if the condition was that they couldn’t sell it. Then again maybe I’m wrong about that too.

  • Guest

    Doesn’t make much sense. You are indifferent to what a product looks like, yet consider the looks a bonus? For some people it is a necessary feature. Apple products are not overpriced compared to any Windows operating hardware, check some Sony models as an example. You have never owned an Apple product, so I’ll doubt your judgement about MacOS qualities and Apple’s support. And what are the great functionalities of Android? Also there are plenty of Android phones, which are more expensive than the iPhone. And the laptop you got for 700 euros is (I guess), either heavier, with lesser battery life or uglier. Or all of that. And where are those Apple ads “all over the media”? The only place I saw some serious advertisement was Japan, certainly not Finland, France and Canada.
    And to finish: 
    “group of people that don’t really care about prospecting the market, reading reviews and finding the best suited equipment for them, they want all of those decisions made for them and wrapped inside a pretty package no matter the cost.” 
    What is wrong with that?

  • Joseph Rodriguez

    Vision is certainly the foundation to all things possible! Steve Jobs should be put at the true definition of Visionary.

  • Marvikan

    Steve Jobs profound quote-
    “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.”. 

    Was all that was needed here! This IS the essence of his way of life. All the rest of this was pure fluff, and in my opinion unnecessary verbage! Sometimes it’s just best to look at a masterpiece without the intrusion of any commentary on behalf of the onlooker. The interpretation is all heresay!  Thanks for the quote though…….peace……

  • Butlerm.com

    Great read!  I can’t wait until his biography comes out in November!

  • Allison Perley-Harter

    I interviewed with Steve Jobs as an Executive Assistant in the 90s.  He was coming out of a failure, but his mind was already into the future.  I came in as runner up for the job.  Boy do I wish I had that stock now!

  • Spavlis

    ΕΠΙΚΟΥΡΟΣ. Read it all that is just repeat from the echoes of the past

  • Scott Belsky

    Thanks Dennis; really glad to hear that.

  • Ellen Turner

    Steve Jobs is a robber baron. Most of the jobs are in China at Foxcomm..where they make the ipods, apps, etc. He is cut throat and ruthless. Many personal stories of his greediness and cheapness galore.

  • Bon

    “I’m a graphic designer… and I’ve never owned an Apple product” lol

  • Quenota

    Steve lost his jobs

  • Lreign

    This man’s vision changed the world one person at a time. As a graphic designer in the 80’s imagination was severely handicapped by what others could produce, no digital magic, no concepts delivered at the speed of light, money poured down the creative process tube … then it appeared, the Apple Mac and I pounced on the 125k Mac, then every update that followed. I love the man, he set me free. 

  • Wendyswcheung

    It is a very inspiring article…I respect
    the “Think different” from Steve Job and his refused to conform to traditional
    expectations and limitations.

    I do believed his rebel ways were only a
    consequence of his efforts to stay true to an original vision to makes Apple
    ALIVE!

    Steve Job done a great job to “Apple”. I
    saluted to you!

  • Deborahannwatt

    I think we are all born with a sense of vision, deep in our core. It’s hared not to let the grime and crud of disappointment and disapproval bury us. Mr. Jobs stayed true to his core and would not deviate from this truth. No blame, no excuses, no fear, because he refused to allow  approval and acceptance from others confuse,define or distract him. His life and speech at Stanford also testify to the works of another visionary who wrote, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man….”

  • Saravanakumar. M

    Well ! vision without obstruction is what make someone like steve jobs to achieve what he has achieved. I respect his great thought and vision that has lead to the success of APPLE at the same time i admire the bold decision to quit as CEO of apple and giving way to the next talent which i believe that every individual has nothing to lose in the world from the moment he is born but to achieve something and pass it on to next generation before he leaves this world, something novel that the world can cherish after him.

    i salute the great steve jobs…..

  • Bo Reidler

    As much as Jobs was an important influence on the path that Apple took, let’s not forget that one man alone a company does not make. Whether it is luck or good choices or both Jobs cannot have acted alone. Yet we are drawn to take the romantic “auteur” vision rather than acknowledge that the team is just as important. Jobs was a leader, of this there is no doubt, but even a great leader works within a team. Deifying Jobs does him no favours I’m sure and he would be the first to acknowledge this. Nevertheless, as a leader of team Apple he was great, of this there is no doubt.

  • JAS

    Inspiring man, who had definitely made an impact

  • Kris Basque

    definitely inspiring mate, jobs is an Icon of success !!

  • 21tigermike

    Mediocre is the attention to detail, mediocre is the quality of components, and mediocre is the disregard for seamless integration (obviously, let the users figure out the drivers).

    And by the way, Dell HP Gateway and their ilk are non-stories, completely dull zero-margin boxes. They are the definition of mediocrity.

  • Michael A. Robson

    That’s what the word ‘despite’ is there for…. ahem…Note the contradiction? I’m saying they’re not DRIVEN by money, the way their competitors are.

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