Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bill Gates is an Urban Legend-Listen To Steve Jobs

Strange post title, but I'll get to that later. One of my favorite students is leaving this weekend, and I'm bummed. The time was too short. During my breaks between classes instead of going downstairs for a snack or anything, I'm usually in my room with this student voice recording a book into his MP4. He's a very creative director type person and so he shares an earpiece with me and reads along while I'm recording it, he's really into his English education, he's really into his life. Many Koreans love travel, but often go in groups and feel tortured without Korean food, and would prefer an upscale whirlwind tour of Europe. This guy travels by himself and goes to places like India and visits small tribes of indigenous peoples in China. He's a fashion designer. He seems to always be in a good mood.

The other day he came into class and announced, "I'm angry!", I was shocked. He explained that the night before was like the 5th time he had been stood up by a person who promised to give him violin lessons. Violin lessons, yes. Now most people wouldn't go to the Philippines for a few weeks for English immersion and decide to squeeze in learning a new musical instrument, especially the last week before leaving. The next day he said that the person finally kept the appointment and stayed with him for 5 hours, and he took video of it, so that he can continue his lessons in the UK. That's the kind of person he is.

The other day he said he wanted to see me for an extra period because he wanted me to hear something that he listens to every morning. So we did, we shared earphones on the MP4 and listened to a speech that Steve Jobs gave to Stanford grads in 2005.
Here's the link.

I had heard about Steve Jobs, but very little. I heard things like, "He's a neat guy." and "He's very creative.", or "Have you heard his life story?, it's great." So I was happy to get the chance to hear what the fuss was about. It was quite good. I weigh life choices the way Steve does, and so does this student. Steve says, 'you can't connect the dots going forward'

I was so happy to hear someone articulate that, because I've had to answer people's questions again and again trying to say something clever. I get "Why are you doing that?", and I'm thinking Why the h&%$? do I have to know why I'm doing something? Is this how most people are living their lives? No, I think there are quite a few of us out there that say, 'This is interesting, things that are interesting have merit, and no I don't have a crystal ball to tell you at this time what that tangible future merit might be, you one dimensional, irritating, walking frustration. It's happened to me a lot, one concrete example I can give is when I started learning Chinese. When people asked me why I just thought about them, 'and why are you not learning Chinese, huh? Can you answer that?' And I question the merits of knowing Friends episodes by heart, or whatever these other people are doing with their time. Steve's crystal ball answer, "You can't connect the dots going forward."

Frankly speaking of course, this outlook being successful is contingent on the person being a good person and an interesting person. If a bad, uninteresting, intellectually incurious person goes around following their heart, there's trouble for everyone. [Do I insert another picture of George Bush here, or are there already too many on this page? People might think I'm obsessed.] The bottom line is, I like interesting. That's it- I like interesting, and so does Steve.

The 'connect the dots' part of Steve's speech was about how he dropped out of college and only sat in on interesting courses. He sat in on a calligraphy course.

"None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. "

Calligraphy, violin, Chinese, whatever. Thank you Steve Jobs.
I really like the student who's leaving and I really liked that speech, it was interesting. In the hallway here at the college on one wall is the "speech" that Bill Gates supposedly gave at a high school. If you look it up on the net, it's a known fact that the speech is an urban legend. He never gave it. But this Steve Jobs speech is also available on YouTube for viewing if one is so inclined.
The last line of his speech:
"Stay hungry, stay foolish."

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