By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director, UNEP and IIT alumnus.
He was an inspiration to many, young and old alike. To the young generation, he illustrated how to stay ‘hungry’ and ‘foolish’. That advice takes away complacency. Those who are hungry are always on the lookout and search for something. Those who are ‘ foolish’ always ask questions to seek answers. For ‘‘wise’ men they may appear to be stupid when questions are asked. But a real ‘stupid’ person knows that if you don’t ask a stupid question, you remain stupid. That probably explains why Newton asked ‘why Apple falls down and does not go up!’
That’s the stupid man I am writing about!
Steve Jobs. Steven Paul Jobs to be precise. He kept on asking questions and make ‘Apple’ go up and did not allow it to fall down. He defied the gravity of the situation. He changed the world upside-down. Newton put an apple in the context of the ‘Law of Gravity’. Steve put Apple in the context of the law of passion, perseverance and people. Who could have imagined just a few years back today’s world with a touch phone with smart applications? Who else could have achieved it but for that passion to remain hungry?
And to the older generation, he advised having the courage to follow one’s heart and intuition. Our heart and intuition probably already know that everything else is secondary.
5th October 2021 is Steve’s 10th death Anniversary. Comparison is totally unintended but 2011 is also the year when I retired from United Nations Environment Programme. Steve in his position as commander of Apple is known not only as technology savvy as much as designer par excellence. Designing not only for the looks of the products but designing to meet people’s needs was his addiction. He stated that innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. Impactful thoughts, indeed.
Many think that Steve was an IT expert. Steve was a unique merge of a hungry industrial designer. Hungry innovator, dreaming investor, powerful business -magnate, and creative media proprietor.
Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003. When the news broke out later, I was in Paris. As a passionate follower of this leader, I was heartbroken and upset. I spent my time pacing up and down on the banks of Seine.
He spent the following years fighting against the disease and undergoing several hospitalizations and work stoppages, appearing increasingly thin. Engaged in my humble efforts in the United Nations in contributing to save the ozone layer that prevents yet another form of cancer- skin cancer, I kept tracking his health and reading his thoughts and learning his strategies almost regularly.
During this time he still managed to personally introduce to the public Apple’s new iPhone the iPad and keynotes. At the age of fifty-six on October 5, 2011, he died, at his home in Palo Alto. Again comparison is unintended but in the same year, I was reborn having retired from UNEP.
But I never could forget his message ‘ Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.’ Yes, that happened to me a number of times. Did I lose faith? I have no answer, but I learnt to do what my heart and intuition told me when such a situation arises.
I still keep learning from Steve’s ever-echoing speeches and his famous books. His passion for making a “dent in the universe” and his drive for perfection in everything he touched upon, literally made the world enjoy ‘ touching ’ upon his devices. He revolutionised not only iPhones, but he also revolutionized 6 industries together; phones, music, animated movies, PCs, tablets and digital publishing.
He once said, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” This sentence and alphabets themselves cry.
What has hit me the most is, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” In UN, where I led a global programme from UNEP’s 5 offices in the world, I tried to follow his advice that, “ Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”. It was not easy for me to follow this advice in UN because I was not a real leader, that I thought – I was just his follower!
Like a child, on 6th October, I dressed the whole day like Steve Jobs. Blacktop and dark blue jeans. Why? That is a foolish question. But my answer is ‘ Stevenish ‘. It is because, again, my ‘heart and intuition told me to do it’.