A creative mind

There is an apple looking back at me as I type. The simple shape of an easily recognized fruit with a single leaf and a missing bite is just one example of the creative and innovative thinking exemplified by Apple’s founder Steve Jobs. Jobs died of cancer on Oct 5 at age 56.

The Apple logo is instantly recognized around the world. It is a perfect example of what a logo should be. Simple. Elegant. Distinctive. It is good design and an important part of Apple’s success as a business.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter. I earned my living while in college by working as a secretary. I experienced the change from manual to electric typewriters, to self-correcting IBM’s, to changeable type heads and to electronic word processors. I went from adding numbers on an adding machine with a handle to an electric adding machine, to doing math on tiny calculators and computers. When I was a child we had a record player that had a crank. We bought a stereo system early in our marriage and now I carry my music in an iPod the size of a credit card. I have seen the changes Steve Jobs influenced. The first computer I worked with filled many rooms. The one I am writing on today (the one with the apple on the front) has more memory than the one filling many rooms. My iMac fits on the top of my desk and is about an inch thick.

Steve Jobs was a genius. He was a flawed human being in many ways. His employees sometimes found him dictatorial and impatient. He is said to have had an ego the size of  King Louis the VII. He was not particularly generous, at least not in a public sense. He was not always kind or empathetic, according to those who knew him. In spite of his shortcomings, he changed the world. Even if you do not own an Apple computer, and iPhone, an iPad or an iPod, the innovations and creativity of Jobs and the people with whom he surrounded himself influenced the devices you use.

When times are tough and school systems are faced with decisions about cutting costs, often the first courses to be eliminated are the arts. Painting, drawing, design, creative writing and music are seen as “fluff” courses, things that aren’t necessary or preparing students for a good job. Steve Jobs would be a good example of why these kinds of learning are important. The arts have been shown to increase young people’s abilities in other areas of learning. The study of music has been proven to improve students’ reading and math scores. The arts allow us to understand the world from a different perspective. Music, literature, and art all teach students to think in new ways, to be creative.

Jobs genius wasn’t limited to his understanding of how computers work. His abilities, obviously, included an understanding of math and of computing. His real success, however, came about because he was able to think creatively. He envisioned things that others did not. He surrounded himself with employees who understood computers, marketing and accounting, but they also were artists, musicians, and writers. They were creative thinkers. He found his business model in The Beatles. “They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people,” said Jobs. I don’t know how many art courses Steve Jobs took in his life, but he is reported to have said, “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

Learning to think creatively is just as important as learning how to add a column of numbers, to read, or to understand science. Creative thinking is what makes the difference between a computer technician and a genius like Steve Jobs.

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains