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Steve Jobs for Govies

At first blush, the life of Steve Jobs has nothing in common with your typical government employee.

Yet, a close examination of the Apple founder’s life contains lessons for everyone – even govies. From education to moving from on failure, the life of Jobs provides more than just inspiration – it has has practical advice that anyone can follow.

These lessons are contained in Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It’s a compulsively readable biography that presents Jobs as a brilliant man with some very rough edges.

1. Learning. Steve Jobs was a college drop-out. Why? Because it didn’t provide him what he needed. Instead, he followed his passions such as Zen Buddhism and calligraphy, subjects which seemed to have no practical application to real life (but would pay off years later). Rather than following someone else’s syllabus, he created his own. Existing at the intersection of liberal arts and technology, his interest in lifelong learning allowed him to create products that fused engineering with art, such as the iPhone and iPad. His experience underscores the importance of education for all of us, even if it doesn’t take place in a classroom.

2. Money. Jobs had been very poor as a college drop-out and very rich as a CEO but money never much mattered to him. Even when he was wealthy, he lived very simply. He founded Apple not to become a millionaire but to change the world through products such as the Mac. He cared more about mission than money, like govies do.

3. Simplicity. Upon returning to Apple, Jobs pared down the product line which was choked with variations of laptops and desktops. Instead, there would be a Pro line and Consumer line. Apple products became known for what they left out – simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, an approach that was inspired by his experiences with Zen Buddhism. With its profusion of rules and overlapping mandates, government could use a healthy dose of simplicity.

4. Failure. Jobs was not one to brood on failure. The launch of the original Mac in 1984 revolutionized personal computers – they were the computer for the rest of us. Yet, the Mac as a product was a failure – it was too expensive. Jobs was thrown out of the company that he had founded. He took the opportunity to create a whole new computer company, NeXT, before buying Pixar and then triumphantly returning to Apple. Jobs didn’t dwell on defeat but sought to continually innovate – a trait government agencies should emulate.

5. Legacy. Steve Jobs focused on creating beautiful objects that people would love. He didn’t want to leave behind a pile of money – he wanted to ensure the continued success of Apple. To do so, he populated the company with his people and his ideas, which would live on after his death. Apple has a culture, and that culture is made up of its people. Well-run government agencies have similar cultures – a core set of values and a sense of mission that lives on after the founders have gone.

Steve Jobs led a career that is very different from the world of government. But the lessons of his life – creativity, simplicity, mission – are ones that can be applied to anyone’s life. Even yours.

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