Lessons from Steve Jobs

by Michael on August 24, 2011 · 0 comments

Steve Jobs, proud papa of the iPad.

Today was a sad, although not unanticipated, day for anyone appreciative of technology and its role in our lives: Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO:

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

You don’t need me to recount the changes in our society Apple has been responsible for. The company revolutionized home computing in the ’80s with the original Mac. After his return in 1997, Jobs and the company he founded simply owned the 2000s, and have moved the world forward immeasurably. From the iMac to the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad, Apple recognized needs and then filled them in ways most technology companies simply hadn’t thought of (but were always quick to both copy and build on, from Windows to Android).

He made his company’s stock the poster child for coveted investments, and even started a side venture that has created some of the most beloved animated films of all time. He was a workaholic, sent often terse responses to e-mails from customers and may be one of the most famous examples of a control freak since the days of kings and emperors (one former employee quipped, “he’d make an excellent King of France”), but it can’t be denied that he’s a classic alpha male.

What made his time with Apple, and his “side” businesses like NeXT and Pixar, so fruitful?


Jobs was driven to create the best products he could, taking new technologies and moving them forward. He wanted to ditch “beige boxes,” creating the original iMac, a colorful machine with curved lines and the screen and computer in a single piece. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but none with the same sleek white case (and identifiable white earbuds—you could spot another iPod user a block away) and easy interface for uploading music.

People screamed at first when the iMac appeared with no floppy drive, and when the MacBook Air included no CD/DVD drive. In both cases, Apple dragged us into the future, whether we liked it or not, and today we use thumb drives and the Internet for moving files and installing software. Multitasking and Flash were available for “smart phones” prior to the iPhone, but Jobs felt they caused more problems than they solved, and refused to use either in the early versions of the iPhone.

Other companies tie themselves up in knots with features based on focus groups; Jobs focuses not on what’s wanted, but on what’s needed.

If you’ve ever watched one of his keynotes, you’ve seen his love for his products and company. And you won’t find many CEOs of giant corporations who are nearly as well-versed in the actual use of their products as Jobs has demonstrated in those keynotes. And he returned to give those keynotes with amazing speed after both his treatment for pancreatic cancer and subsequent liver transplant.

And when he was “in exile” from the company he founded, he kept his passion alive, creating a company called NeXT, and developing the operating system that would become Mac OS X. He also bought a hardware company called Pixar and turned them into a computer animation studio with Toy Story.


Despite his control-freak nature, Jobs understands he can’t do it all himself. When he returned to Apple, he sought out people who were experts in their field and relied on them for key roles. One of Jobs’ first major hires was Phil Schiller, a marketing executive at Macromedia who actually had a programming background. Jonathan Ive, the man behind the iconic design of most of Apple’s modern products, had considered quitting Apple after the company rejected his designs for a new all-in-one computer. Years later, Jobs returned and used the designs to create the original iMac.


Jobs has what may be the most famous compensation agreement in the corporate world, taking a salary of exactly one dollar per year. His financial stake in Apple consists of stock options—just over 10 million shares, granted between 1997 and 2003—that were worth around $20 per share in 2001, the year the iPod was released. As of today those shares are worth $376.18 apiece.

One way to look at it is that Jobs felt that if he couldn’t lift the company out of near-failure, he didn’t deserve to be paid. But the more likely scenario is that Jobs knew what he could do and chose compensation based on that confidence.

Yes, it comes out like arrogance at times, but Jobs has quite literally put his money where his mouth is.

It’s likely that deteriorating health is the reason he’s stepped down as CEO (he’s retaining his position as Chairman, as well as his board position at Disney), so I wish him the best life possible in whatever time he has remaining. The world will miss him.

A small glimpse at what he’s done: here’s the introduction of the iPod, circa 2001.

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What is exercise?

That’s the question raised by the “Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index,” compiled on a monthly running basis by pollster Gallup. In fact, the bigger question could be, what is “well-being”?

According to the first question in Gallup’s poll, the definition of “exercise” is apparently “30 minutes or more of whatever you call exercise.” And based on that definition, hey, a lot of people exercise! Depending on the month, anywhere from 63 to 72 percent of Americans do it at least once a week – not enough to really help get fit much but it gives us a much less depressing number than when they ask who “exercises” at least three times a week (49.6%).

Exercise survey results

People who exercised at least 30 minutes one day per week (Source: 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index)

The first problem is that 30 minutes of mystery exercise tells us nothing — are people counting 30 minutes of incidental walking in a day? We don’t know. But it’s really a big difference whether they ran or walked or exercised with weights or just changed into gym clothes and hung out.

The half-hour minimum is arbitrary too. My Crossfit workout yesterday took me a total of 22 minutes, so it doesn’t count, but if I go on a 40-minute nature walk on a Sunday it does. So the survey fails to assess who’s actually doing a healthy amount of exercise. Kind of knocks the wheels off the whole thing.

But that explains why fewer people say they “exercise” in January than in June: to exercise in January you have to have a shred of commitment, and either go to a gym or brave the elements or find something you can do at home.

The whole thing takes an even uglier turn when Gallup tries to break down the results along socioeconomic lines:

Numbers of rich vs poor exercisers

Percentage of Americans who exercise 3+ times per week (Source: 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index)

Look! Rich people can afford to exercise and poor people can’t! Or the poor people have to work more and rich people don’t, or something. Gallup leaves that up to our imaginations. Mine tells me that “rich” people have more reason to exaggerate to the pollster than poor do: there’s much more implied status in that answer. But let’s assume the answer is what it is. Gallup then asks another random question:

Can you get a "safe place" to exercise?

People who can find a "safe place" to exercise (Source: 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index)

What the hell? Well, on this one Gallup takes it upon themselves to interpret: “Lower income Americans, a group less likely to report frequent exercise, may tend to live in neighborhoods where there aren’t safe places to exercise.” (By the way, Gallup could easily gather and include location data as proof that most of these low-income Americans live on the mean streets, but chose not to. I mean, it’s not like they do this for a living or anything.)

If only you could exercise in your own home

In the battle to define what exercise is — what it is that people need to be more healthy, crave more wholesome food and acquire more self-esteem — surveys like this are a colossal failure. The sad part is that they could do it, if they wanted to; they just don’t want to. Their findings get picked up by the New York Times just fine as it is, thank you.

But in the end, rich or poor or overweight or “safe,” this survey should mean nothing to you. The only person who should matter to you is the one in the mirror. Start simple, start at home, or yes, even walk for a half-hour a day if that gets you started.

Just get started.

Americans Exercise Less in 2009 Than in 2008 [Gallup]

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Hump-day Links XIV

September 16, 2009 Dressing

Congrats — another week half over. In honor of that, I’d like you to agree to really listen (and not talk – this is critical to listening) to someone who disagrees with you politically. There’s too little of that right now. Maybe use some critical thinking skills while you’re at it. This week’s selection from […]

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Hump-day Links

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Why the Media Won’t Make You Thin

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The latest issue of Time magazine features the cover story, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin. While this is technically true (I’ll get to that), the problem is how this widely read US magazine demonstrates the way the mass media muddies the waters and prevents you from looking and feeling healthier. The crux of the […]

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The Secret Life of Nice Guys

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I want to take the discussion in a serious direction for a minute. There was an awful piece of news on the wire today: a man walked into a ladies’ fitness class and started randomly shooting. He killed three women and injured many others before killing himself. The media quickly found an online diary that […]

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Hump-day Links

August 5, 2009 Dressing

Things have been pretty hectic here at Chez Michael, but never so hectic that I can’t spot some fine Internet links to shock and awe you. This week is no exception, with ritual head-shaving, silly women’s rules we choose to ignore, and guys just sitting around drinking beer. Preferably not in tights. Next, Biggest Loser […]

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Survey: Men Love Surveys

August 1, 2009 Living

50 reasons you have sex. 5 ways to shred your abs. There’s nothing that bumps online traffic or magazine readership like a list. And a survey is the ultimate list: it’s a list of details about you! Why wouldn’t you want to read it? And it seems this is prime time for surveys, with a […]

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