I've been doing what a lot of other people have been doing lately. I've been reading Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. I have been a fan of Jobs for as long as I can remember and, in fact, am writing this piece on my iMac. I bought it as homage to Jobs shortly after his death. I had been a PC user all my technological life, but decided that I needed to show my allegiance to a uniquely American genius. I have never looked back.
The iMac is a computer that works for me. It just feels right. But the book has taught me many things about Jobs and, quite frankly, about myself. I am not saying that there are any similarities between the two of us, but I am saying that there is so much about him and his quest for ideal solutions to seemingly intractable issues that it is forcing me to rethink some things in my own professional life.
He believed in the exhortation of the Whole Earth Catalog to "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish." I understand this on some cosmic level, but also understand that in my line of work it's foolish to suggest "stay hungry."
You see, hunger is an issue I spend a great deal of my days thinking about and working on. I lead an organization whose vision is to end senior hunger by 2020. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, a technology guru, or even an elected official to know that there is enough food on this good Earth to feed every man, woman, and child. What it does take is some imagination and courage to take a stand and demand that something be done to get that food to those who need it. Simple. Right? Not so fast.
Perhaps we need to look inward during this holiday season and generously scour our own work to see that maybe it does take the collective village to deliver the goods. Just who, after all, is responsible for "ending hunger?" Is it the function of government (at all levels) to make sure that nobody is hungry? Is it the responsibility of corporate America to lower prices that are so heavily inflated so as to price fruits and vegetables out of reach? Is it the responsibility of each and every one of us to help our neighbor? Is it the responsibility of a nation to protect its most vulnerable citizens when they are forced to choose between food and shelter? The answer to each of these is, of course, YES. The answer may be simple; the act of carrying it out is much more complex.
And that is where I turn to Steve Jobs to help me figure out just how to accomplish a vision that must be both a mission and an obligation to fulfill. He never wavered in his outright determination to create a line of products that were at once aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian to a fault. He wanted to find vehicles to put in people's hands (and at their fingertips) that would transform our way of communicating in this vast and expansive world. He wanted to turn out products that the masses could afford and that would help make knowledge and art and science and language intersect in their own living spaces. In short, he wanted to change the way we do things. In so doing, he changed the world.
Can we embark on a similar quest of changing the world for the better by using the tools and products at our disposal? How do we harness the power of imagination and creativity and put them to work in the human services domain? How do we prevent the foolishness of hunger in a food-rich land?
Jobs wanted a world complacent with same-old, same-old notions to Think Different. He wanted us to confront old problems with different solutions. To him the notion of Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish, was correct. I now have come to understand that for me too, the only way to solve the issue of senior hunger is in fact, to think different.
2012 will be a year not of looking back, but looking forward and thinking different.
The world is a better place for having had Steve Jobs in it. We can transform lives when we think big, think wisely, think unselfishly, and in the world of ending hunger, think different.
Enid Borden is the President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America.
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