On Saturday, I had the pleasure of hearing Walter Isaacson speak about his biography of Steve Jobs. It was organized by Books & Books and held at Temple Judea in the Gables. Earlier in the week, I made a commitment to myself to attend the talk by pre-buying a ticket ($10), and of course barely made it in time to get a good seat.
As usual, there were a number of competing activities going on in Miami -- the Black's Annual Gala, Ultra Music Festival, Winter Music Conference (full disclosure I came directly from Belvedere event), and the Sony Eriksson tennis tournament. Still, I was a bit surprised at who I saw there... or rather who I didn't see. Out of the 200-300 people in attendance, It seemed that only a few people in my age bracket (under 40) got the memo about the talk.
I was surprised because Steve Jobs is the preeminent businessman and technologist to our generation -- his Stanford commencement speech is one of the most inspirational and noteworthy monologues addressed to the youth of America. I thought more people in their 20s and 30s would turn out to hear Mr. Isaacson (himself one of the most accomplished guys out there) give the inside scoop about Steve. I viewed the talk not only as an opportunity to get a three-dimensional perspective on Steve's life, but to catch a few useful takeaways that I might apply to my own life and career. Mr. Isaacson delivered according to expectation, as he early on stated that Steve's contribution and talent was at the intersection of creativity and technology. That is certainly the place where entrepreneurs, thought leaders and productive people need to spend their energy, and in Mr. Isaacson's words, "put something into the flow of history."
The whole talk was really fun. Mr. Isaacson is an experienced communicator -- totally at ease, witty, and polished. And his stories about Steve were just great. I particularly loved his description of Steve's "reality distortion field" and "emotional distortion field." Apparently, Steve could make anyone do anything by staring unblinking at them for an uncomfortably long time and then saying, "Don't be afraid. You can do it." It's a trick he used more than once over several decades. (Side note, I heard Christopher Walken trained himself not to blink often for his movie scenes. He's a master too. Jedi trick?)
The comparisons and stories of Steve and Bill Gates were pretty epic. Apparently, Bill is conventionally brainier than Steve, but doesn't have Steve's aesthetic feel or intuition. Currently, Jobs' approach has the upper hand, given Apple's undisputed leadership and influence across multiple industries. The cool thing to know was that even though one led with the brain, and the other with the heart, the two guys were friends, rivals, and did appreciate one another. It made me laugh when I pictured their last meeting, where they totally pumped each other up, and then privately told Mr. Isaacson how they really felt (they were playing nice with each other).
Of course, I'm fascinated with the influence of spirituality on Steve Jobs. He spent time in India, followed Eastern gurus, and believed there are limits to Western rational thought. In simply that respect, Steve's my kind of guy. Mr. Isaacson shared Steve's claim that he wanted to believe in something beyond this life, that when we die we don't simply switch off like an appliance. Steve then joked that that was the reason he took the on-off button from the iPod. I hope that's true, because it makes me inexplicably happy to think that spirituality influenced its design.
If you haven't read the biography yet, based on hearing Mr. Isaacson speak, I'm going to highly recommend you checking it out (I've only just started it). I'd also like to encourage anyone in Miami to sign up for Books & Books newsletter, or to my curated list of events, or any other resources for keeping up with authors coming to Miami.
We have too many valuable opportunities to learn and grow here that are just being missed. Walter Isaacson was REALLY good, and the stories and lessons he shared are of huge value to my peers. But I took notes, and am happy to share them. Thanks as always to Books & Books. You guys rock.
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