Remembering Steve Jobs: A tribute to thinking differently Nazly Siregar | Sat, 10/15/2011 8:15 AM

Steve Jobs ( Jobs passed away last week, aged 56. He was my modern day hero in understanding high technology, my first crush and my poster man of thinking differently all rolled into one.

My first encounter with him came in 1985 when he and John Scully graced the cover of Fortune magazine. They were both smiling, but my big brother, who knew English, told me a different story: Jobs was forced to quit the company he co-founded by the same man he had hired to lead the company. The story was heartbreaking and I was heartbroken. After all, Jobs, looking boyish and handsome, stole my heart. Since that moment, I have been behaving rather badly. With actions worthy of a stalker, I followed his career and whereabouts and became rather obsessed with Apple products.

I first saw Jobs in the flesh in 1994 at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, when he delivered a key speech unveiling some new products from his new company, NeXT, which was financed by the eccentric billionaire and then presidential hopeful, Ross Perot.

Shamelessly, I introduced myself as Jobs’ biggest fan and had a picture taken of us both. Having lived in Silicon Valley for a dozen years, I came to appreciate what Jobs and Apple are all about. And if Apple is a religion, Jobs is the prophet. Whenever Apple holds its annual expo, it rivals Rolling Stones concerts, with Jobs being the geek’s Mick Jagger.

If people choose to remember Jobs through brilliant products that have changed our lives forever, I choose a different path. Jobs epitomizes what America is all about: the enviable freedom to think differently. When he entered the high-tech world, it was dominated by college dropouts who later became billionaires and visionaries: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Lawrence Ellison (Oracle) and Michael Dell (Dell). They reminded the world that an official paper called “diploma” did not necessarily guarantee a good living.

If you have a bright mind and you are obsessed with your convictions, you can live your dreams. As Jobs famously quoted, you need to be “insanely great” to realize your dreams. The rebels, the misfits, the fanatics: If you are crazy enough to hold on your ideas, you might well be able to make them come true.

People often spoke of Jobs as someone who had little knowledge of technology and passable business competencies. His temper was legendary, too. But what he mastered was the ability to identify greatness in his people and identify opportunities out of thin air.

Those who are lucky enough to have heard him speak in person will testify to this: he really meant what he said. He was so articulate, it was almost impossible to disagree with what he was saying. He was one of a kind.

Growing up in Indonesia, I am more than familiar with how the education system is manufactured. We are trained to memorize and mimic certain things. Instructions are followed with no questions asked. In short, children are taught to think uniformly.

Therefore, it was no shock to me, after having returned to my home country after being abroad for more than two decades, to see a similar way of working and way of living everywhere. The thought process is the same, the writing style is similar and people even use the same repetitive words and sentences. Indonesia loves this sameness. People do things in accordance with common norms. If I can find the answer in the manual, I will tell you, otherwise I cannot help you. You cannot do it that way because it has not been done that way before!

While being orderly isn’t a crime, the negative side of an orchestrated mind is the inability to think differently. This is the exact opposite of Jobs’ genius, the freedom to think differently, although in Apple’s lingo, it’s called, “Think different”. Otherwise, we will have the same life pattern; we will follow the same dreams and we will take the same path. We will become intellectually and mentally lazy.

History shows that we are such a great nation with immeasurable wealth in terms of both culture and natural resources. The fact that 250 dialects are spoken across our country proves the creativity of our forefathers. Our 17,000 islands are so unique that each corner can claim its own customs and etiquette. So, if we are that diverse, why would not we let our children think differently?

Throughout the years I spent living in America, one thing that I treasured was my freedom to think. I did not have to agree with everything that I read or listened to. My own way of doing things was just as valuable as mainstream habits. I was crazy enough to think that I could conquer a blue hole, while in fact; I received 22 stitches from a shark bite. I thought I could change the world when I arrived at an orphanage in Nepal, but I found that the misuse of funds was so huge that I was in danger of being swallowed up.

Whatever naiveties were inside my mind, I was brave enough to think differently and challenge the status quo. I sincerely believe that if all of us were to do something out of the ordinary, something extraordinary would come out of it.

So, what can we do to foster this thinking, the kind of thinking that brings a deeper level of intensity and reaches a much higher level of quality in its outcome? In his speech at Stanford University’s 2005 commencement ceremony, Jobs famously exclaimed that his brush with death, due to pancreatic cancer, had led him to believe that we should not follow anyone else’s footsteps because we needed to create our own. We should follow our heart and not live under someone else’s shadow. We should have our own mind and create our own dreams.

Are we ready to let our children have their own minds? Often, our pride swallows us up so that we wish that our children would act the way we do because we think we know best. We are overprotecting them, and not actually teaching them to survive. Whatever noble reasons we have, we are not ready to detach ourselves from our own offspring.

As we grow older, we will see the results of our own actions: obedient children who are nice, but who are rarely able to bring their own bread home or make up sentences on their own.

The writer is a US Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and tax services director at a large accounting firm in Jakarta.

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