Alpha is for Apple: How to be like Steve Jobs and Why

Oct 6th, 2011 | Filed under: Editor's Pick | By:
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by Doug Friedenberg

The passing of a profound individual usually triggers recitals of the great man’s accomplishments, and we’re experiencing that with the passing of Steve Jobs, for good and honorable reasons. But that leaves out what may be the most interesting and relevant understanding to be gleaned from his life, especially since Mr. Jobs did the alpha thingy especially well.  Presumably you read All About Alpha looking for keys to outperformance in your chosen financial profession without the use of steroids or LSD.  Well, without steroids.  If so, your questions about Steve Jobs should be:  “What was he doing that I can do too? How and why did he see what he saw?”  The rest is mere detail.

If that’s your question (and if it’s not, you need to read this even more than your competitors do), you’ll be relieved to know that he answered your question at least once, back when he spoke to the Stanford graduating class in 2005.  His points, brief and elegant, are so simple and easy to follow that you, in a more complex world, will probably find them impossible to implement.  Which may be, for you, the clue you need to discover the alpha generator within.

Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs was adopted by parents who, on average, had not graduated high school.   But they had committed to Steve’s grad student birth mother that they would send him to college.   At expensive Reed College, Steve realized that college expenses were quickly draining his parents’ meager savings, and he dropped out, solving the education problem by auditing the classes that piqued his curiosity, and to which he was intuitively drawn, and sleeping on the floor in friends’ dorm rooms.    In one such class, he learned about calligraphy and typography, which was “subtle in a way that science can’t capture”.   What he learned in that course turned out to be seminal in his Mac design ten years later.  His conclusion?   You (yes, you) must learn to trust that the dots will connect in your future, because the picture can’t be seen looking forward, only backwards. Follow your heart, even when it leads off the well-worn path.

Love and Loss

Steve Jobs was fired from Apple at age 30 when the ceo he had brought in to Apple convinced the board to make the change.    He still loved what he did, started over.  This allowed him to follow his curiosity and intuition again, after a period of regrouping after he had lost his spot at Apple.  So he started Next (which Apple subsequently acquired, along with him) and Pixar, which you may already know something about.   Next and its technology turned out to be the new core of Apple technology.  The moral according to Steve:  don’t lose faith.  Find what you love and do it.  “As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

Death

Steve Jobs reminded the listening graduated of the following, which is also a cornerstone of Zen Buddhist practice:   “if you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll surely be right.” This thought assists you in sorting out what’s really important, and can liberate your point of view beyond many of the ankle-biters people always have to deal with.  Steve Jobs noted that each is life’s change agent.  Sometimes the stuff that’s no longer useful needs to be cleared away to allow the progress of the present to flourish.  And the knowledge that your time is limited may cause you to use your time more productively. He concluded by citing the final admonition from the last edition of the Whole Earth Catalogue:  “Stay hungry.  Stay foolish.”  Perhaps that referred to days long past, when the King’s Fool was the only one who could survive speaking the truth, for a while.

You may hear Steve Jobs speak directly, through this link:  “How to Live Before You Die.” We forgot to put it at the front of this article.  Sometimes the spark to light your fire can fly directly through the internet.

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Author Bio:
Doug Friedenberg has a knack for taking esoteric financial topics and rendering them merely obscure. He is principal of www.jigsaw-capital.com, which arranges asset-based finance for small and mid-sized businesses.

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