Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Vision Without Obstruction: What We Learn From Steve Jobs

In recent days, everyone has taken the news of Steve Jobs’ resignation and illness in different ways. For me, it has conjured up admiration and curiosity. More than anything else, I have always respected Jobs’ clarity. True, the man has always shunned the status quo, but I believe his rebel ways were only a consequence of his efforts to stay true to an original vision. Jobs didn’t “think different” just for the sake of it, he just refused to conform to traditional expectations and limitations.

Some say Jobs’ possessed a “reality distortion field.” I’d argue that it was, in fact, a sense of clarity so powerful that no obstacle could get in the way of creating perfect products.Apple did not invent the mp3 player, the tablet, or the smartphone. But while other companies made compromises and took shortcuts to get to market, Jobs had a knack for sticking with his vision of what a product could and should be. I can only imagine the constant stream of obstacles he faced as Apple began to execute these ideas:

  • Material shortages and cost limitations
  • Ensuring compatibility with previous software
  • Market research with conflicting messages
  • Pre-existing patents and features from competitors
  • Marketing and sales deadlines

It must have been so seductive to stray at any moment and compromise to get it done. As people around him said, “Let’s just let that go because [fill in the great excuse here],” Jobs always somehow stayed course.Perhaps the difference between Steve Jobs and the “visionaries” at other great companies was his ability to not only see what the future of technology could be, but to work toward that vision without obstruction.

Jobs had a knack for sticking with his vision of what a product could and should be.

Obstruction is all the stuff that gets in the way of making the best possible decisions. The drive toward a “better quarter” is a frequent obstruction for CEOs when it comes to making smart long-term decisions. A bullshit legal requirement for more explanation on a product’s packaging is an obstruction to a clear marketing strategy. The desire to shave four cents from the assembly of a product is an obstruction to building it the right way.Needless to say, it’s easy to lose grasp of a bold vision once the journey begins. Most leaders tack right and left as obstacles reveal themselves, and then they arrive at an entirely different destination. Jobs was different. He had a maniacal grasp of his vision and was unwilling to let other people — even his customers — shift him off-course.

Jobs never compromised and gave us what we wanted, he stayed true to his vision and gave us what we needed.

Most leaders tack right and left as obstacles reveal themselves, and then they arrive at an entirely different destination.

In addition to the external obstacles that obstruct vision, there are also internal obstacles. These are our demons — the self-doubt, the fear of failure, and the impulse to meet others’ short-term expectations at the expense of long-term possibilities. It turns out that Jobs had a mechanism to see beyond this sort of obstacle as well. In his now legendary Stanford graduation speech in June 2005, Jobs shared insight into his personal source of clarity, helping us to understand the spectacularly gutsy decisions he made time, and time again, throughout his career. Even if you’ve read it before, read it again:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Indeed, there isn’t, and the only time we think otherwise is when this stark truth — that there is nothing to lose in staying true to what you envision — is obstructed by the froth of short-sighted hopes and fears.

***

The system in which we work is full of expectations cast upon us from our first breath. Every degree of success is accompanied by an equal dose of bureaucracy. Any early success that you may have only breeds higher expectations and a burden to deliver. This burden is a weight that often obstructs vision and sound judgment.Usually, it takes something extreme, even death itself, to look past obstructions and maintain clarity. Perhaps the legacy of Steve Jobs as a leader is a call for clarity. If only we could all pursue our own visions with a little less obstruction.

There are a lot of great ideas in this world, and the obstacles that get in the way are no excuse. Steve would never stand for it, and neither should we.

More insights on: Focus, Innovation, Leadership

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.
load comments (92)
  • Michael A. Robson

    Cheap labour? In the electronics business? Heavens no!!
    Patent buying? Apple? Or Google?
    An Agressive Legal Team? Defending Apple’s patents? Isn’t that a good thing?

    Look, after what MS did to them in the 90’s, there is no such thing as overly agressive legal force. We’ve been here before.

  • Matt

    All I was saying was that Apple hardly represent any anti-corporate movement.  I am not saying that they are worse than the others, just no better… although their products frequently are.

  • antonio

    Sorry, may i ask what failure? if you referring to NEXT computer…i have to upset you at this point, because Next Computer was not a failure, if you check the press of a few years a go…ok i will refresh your memory MOST OF COMPUTER MAGAZINE DESCRIPTION OF NEXT COMPUTER WAS AS FOLLOW ” Steve Job Next computer is 5-6 years in front of competitions in Design and technology ” yeah next computer was 5-6 years more advanced that the nearest competitor. Then Apple made a smart move just because they did  look on NEXT computer and they understand how much he was really capable of.
    Next failure according to some was the CUBE and that my friend is wrong again…because Steve did just re-package the CUBE and today is one of the best and most loved desktop around is called THE MAC MINI…other failure that we should know???

  • Karl Kramer

    thank you for this wonderful article.
    Steve Jobs not only made the best out of his life, he brought us the Mac and everything that comes with it.

    all the tools for self realisation and self expression needed in our time

    He obviously is also a great philosopher

    Thank you for making all this clear Mr. Belsky

    sincerely

    Karl Kramer

  • Craig

    A very nice article, but every reference to Mr. Jobs is in the past tense.  He’s not dead, just resigned as CEO.  He hasn’t even retired, he’s still an Apple employee, Chairman of the Board, and a board member at Disney.

  • jmmx

    “Not always the case. Mac OS 10.x was not exactly compatible with Mac OS 9.x. Intel based apps were not compatible with PowerPC.”

    True BUT with the emulator you could still run all your older apps for many years.

    All of my PowerPC apps ran fine on OS 10.1. Until Lion – the newest OS X version – Universal binaries ran on both chip sets. It is almost 6 years since the first Intel Macs and still universal binaries work until Lion. 

    I am still using MS Office X from 2001 on Snow Leopard. That is a ten-year old program!

    BTW:
    I bought one of the very first Intel machines (MBP 15″) and my daughter still uses it daily to produce engineering drawings, etc. Six years of very hard use and still running fine. A little dirty – but otherwise, visually you cannot tell it is not a new machine. (Yeah we do have a few little problems – it is not perfect – but nothing that gets in the way of getting work done.)

  • Rohan Gupte

    My question is what qualifies this guy to write an article about Jobs? Just because he knows the login to a blog site?

    As a side, the author lacks clarity in his own writing. Very wordy article with unwarranted lengthy composition.

  • lolBus

    It’s this kind of thinking that allows Apple to continue on to becoming the most valuable company in the world while competitors scramble about with failure after failure. I’m sure Apple are happy for people to keep thinking this way.

  • lolBus

    He was fired in 85.

  • Peteremil

    Perhaps because Scott is CEO of Behance – that qualifies enough for an article. I think Rohan is missing the main point here: stay true to your inner voice, even when it is faint and ample hearable.

  • Evgenia Grinblo

    Beautiful post. I particularly like the observation that “any early success that you may have only breeds higher expectations and a burden to deliver. This burden is a weight that often obstructs vision and sound judgment.” Life, especially the creative life, seems to always take place within this tension between blindness and clarity. I have struggled with this tension myself. Ultimately, this post is about a man who is a great example of a very honest conclusion, coming from a man who probably knows the topic too well from his own life. I disagree with some of the commenters who accuse it of not being objective enough. To make a bad pun, I don’t think that it was the objective the author had in mind.

  • Rohan Gupte is snot

    what qualifies you to comment on his post?

  • Mara Celani

    Definitely the same thought. He is still here.

  • LKashinn

    Excellent
    observations. Jobs was unique for his embodiment of the concept of
    “competing by not competing.” He held to his inner vision, never
    looking over his shoulder at the “competition,” and shunning the
    practice of test marketing. He also employed a GK Chesterton-like
    management technique of maintaining a mastermind team no bigger than
    100. He is brilliant and people will be studying, and hopefully,
    emulating, his out-of-the-box management style, for years to come.

    Mr. Gupte, with all due respect, your point of view is sacred and valid, as no one has ever walked your unique path in life. Do you really have nothing more constructive to do with your time than than to offer unhelpful and negative criticism to total strangers? May you have a better day today. :)

  • James Lytle

    “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
    To be visionary, Jobs exhibits well an absolutely full sense of who you are and what your purpose is. It’s not just about design here or leading a company. It’s about how you live once you know any personal results you encounter compare little to the bigger picture. It’s an impenetrable context to live in, a lifelong lesson. In light of that, I’d be very curious to hear Job’s thoughts on the phrase, “good enough.”

  • Ms_design_1986

    There are people who have ideas but do not hear them Ajdo one one I do not hear meAnyone who does not listen to me hear meBecause he knows that my thoughts can not be applied because it needs a lot of money or tools to Ttgaha and I unfortunately do not hope money.
    salameh mohammad

  • Ahmed

    I am always curious of good jobs,therefore I liked your work .In all honesty and sincerity will do their job.I shall thankful of you if you respect my job.

  • Jarryd

    Surely driving your progress and development with the idea of death has a negative effect on health, possibly contributing to cancer.

  • Jarryd

    Just replying to myself as I cant edit the message. This comment is in no way a negative on on Steve as the genius he is. I am an iOS developer. Couldnt agree more that he has shaped what we take for granted as everyday computing. I hope all goes well with him and he keeps driving Apple from the board.

  • protest the hero

    What qualifies you to be an asshole?

  • Seriously?

    Doesn’t make much sense. You are indifferent to what a product looks
    like, yet consider the looks a bonus?

    – A bonus that isn’t worth the extra price if you’re just looking for a work machine.

    For some people it is a necessary
    feature.

    – For whom? I don’t need to show off when I meet with potential clients.

    Apple products are not overpriced compared to any Windows
    operating hardware, check some Sony models as an example.

    – Even Sony has models that beat any macbook for half the price.

    You have never
    owned an Apple product, so I’ll doubt your judgement about MacOS
    qualities and Apple’s support.

    – Used them at school some years ago and I hated every minute of it. I hate the launcher bar, expose and all those gimmicks, the file manager, the scrollbars, those colored buttons on top. The only thing good on that system is the ability to color files and folders.

    And what are the great functionalities of
    Android?

    – Widgets, Multitasking, A bunch of different launchers, ability to cook your own rom from scratch, etc.

    Also there are plenty of Android phones, which are more
    expensive than the iPhone.

    – Yes, you can make a choice, something you can’t when you buy Apple.

    And the laptop you got for 700 euros is (I
    guess), either heavier, with lesser battery life or uglier.

    – Don’t care about the weight since it’s sitting on my desk most of the time. With the money I saved from buying the 1600€ mac I can buy 900€ worth of spare batteries. Regarding the looks I couldn’t care less, it’s a work machine and I use an external keyboard, mouse and 27″ screen (none of them manufactured by Apple).

    Or all of
    that. And where are those Apple ads “all over the media”? The only place
    I saw some serious advertisement was Japan, certainly not Finland,
    France and Canada.

    – What I mean is that there’s a trend to put a mac on every movie, series, etc. just because they look good on film.

    And to finish: 
    “group of people that don’t
    really care about prospecting the market, reading reviews and finding
    the best suited equipment for them, they want all of those decisions
    made for them and wrapped inside a pretty package no matter the cost.” 
    What is wrong with that?

    – I don’t like choices being made for me, I like to be in control and choose from an array of 100000 of computers the one that fits me.

  • Seriously?

    So, you split a sentence and took it out of contest, want a trophy? Go fetch.

  • Seriously?

    All this fanboyism makes me wanna puke.

  • murani

    I find myself fighting to keep my clarity and focus.  I have reached the point where even if everyone left me I would still pursue the path i’m on.  My vision is too important to let distractions get in the way.

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    very cool post1 thanks alot!

  • Guest

    “- A bonus that isn’t worth the extra price if you’re just looking for a work machine.”That is a very subjective statement. 

    “- For whom? I don’t need to show off when I meet with potential clients.”
    Depends on the people. An example would be people working from home. People buy furniture they like, why would a computer be any different? And let’s not forget that you are looking through your own situation, yet there are plenty of users having different ones.

    “- Even Sony has models that beat any macbook for half the price.”
    Yes, they do. They also have more expensive ones, so you still haven’t defended your original point.

    “- Used them at school some years ago and I hated every minute of it. I hate the launcher bar, expose and all those gimmicks, the file manager, the scrollbars, those colored buttons on top. The only thing good on that system is the ability to color files and folders.”
    Yet again you don’t make much sense. We are talking about usability and features and you mention the colour of buttons? Not to mention that puts you in the same category of people I am talking about – you actually do care about design.

    “- Widgets, Multitasking, A bunch of different launchers, ability to cook your own rom from scratch, etc.”
    iOS has multitasking. I am not impressed here.

    “- Yes, you can make a choice, something you can’t when you buy Apple.”
    Agreed, you can’t.

    “- Don’t care about the weight since it’s sitting on my desk most of the time. With the money I saved from buying the 1600€ mac I can buy 900€ worth of spare batteries. Regarding the looks I couldn’t care less, it’s a work machine and I use an external keyboard, mouse and 27″ screen (none of them manufactured by Apple).”
    Again, subjective. And being lighter is actually a feature – it requires some engineering. You might not care, but it is there, so the computer is priced accordingly.

    “- What I mean is that there’s a trend to put a mac on every movie, series, etc. just because they look good on film.”
    True. They also look good in real life.

    “- I don’t like choices being made for me, I like to be in control and choose from an array of 100000 of computers the one that fits me.”
    Well, here is where Apple doesn’t deliver, that’s true. But, that is a single company, so what do you expect? It’s still very good to have them as an option on the market.

  • Preemptive Placebo

    A Reality Distortion Field and a powerful sense of clarity are not mutually exclusive. 

    Personal beliefs are malleable.  They can be molded to fit the needs of the believer.  We humans have the ability to distort – or delude – ourselves into believe something even if there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.  Once we have adopted a belief we use our innate confirmation bias to seeks out evidence that supports the beliefs while at the same time undermining evidence that contradicts it. 

    Jobs did something that we should all be doing.  He set simple goals and strictly defined them  Then he aligned his beliefs to support these goals.  His confirmation bias sought out evidence to support the beliefs and shut out evidence to the contrary. 

    When he spoke he did so with the utter conviction that he was right because he focused that Reality Distortion Field on himself.  In doing so he proved that he was right, not only to himself but to all of us.     

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    great@ thanks! 

  • rohan gupte is a moron

    You’re supposed to be in a mental institution. I thought mental ward patients are not allowed internet privileges.

  • Gally644

    What a great article. To all the dreamers in the world, this is a thoughtful reminder to hold fast.

  • steve

    Now he is dead.

  • Eric Johnson MBA

    Excellent

  • Buddha

    And, now he is gone. R.I.P.

  • Shuttur

    He was a brilliant man

  • Elsidiop

    Thanks again and R.I.P

  • A passerby

    “The system in which we work is full of expectations cast upon us from our first breath” – great observation – breaking out of this box is what makes a Steve Jobs…

  • Culture-ist

    Unwilling to compromise, true to his vision, Jobs was and is an inspiration.  Thanks for a great write up.

  • ipad mini

    Such a great blog and tried to make better events by multiple choices and greatest artists and celebrates for a nice information

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    thanks a lot for the post! very interesting and usefull! 

  • Parris Whittingham

    Reading this article, I’m reminded of a conversation with a friend about Hackers and Hustlers. These 2 archetypes seem to emerge as some of the most successful leaders in business. Steve jobs was both: a tinkerer, home-brewer and hacker + a bonafide hustler.

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