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Steve Jobs on Connecting the Dots

October 1, 2011

On 24 August, 2011, Apple Inc. issued a press release stating: “Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO of Apple: Tim Cook Named CEO and Jobs Elected Chairman of the Board .” The Associated Press story soon appeared in major newspapers worldwide, from the Guardian, to the Los Angeles Times, to the New Zealand Herald. His departure sparked much discussion about what made him such a successful CEO, and whether Apple would be able to continue to be as innovative without his leadership. This is old news now.

This evening, while sampling my Twitter stream, I came across an interesting quote from Steve Jobs on someone’s profile. I Googled the quote and found a “Best Quotes of Steve Jobs” blog post. The quotes are good, (and I might come back to them in a future post), but the bonus speech that was embedded at the bottom of the page was even better. So I picked up the url from YouTube and have pasted it below.

The video is of a commencement speech that Jobs delivered to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005. He tells three short stories. I have transcribed the first one below, in which he talks about dropping out of Reed College to follow his intuition, and his heart. It is worth spending 14-1/2 minutes listening to the whole speech.

It [dropping out of college] was one of the best decisions that I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting. [. . .] I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into, by following my curiosity and intuition, turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example.

Reed College, at that time, offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus, every poster, every label on every drawer was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out, and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle, in a way that science can’t capture. And I found it fascinating.

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 not dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would never have dropped in on that 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. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, Karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.

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