The late Steve Jobs was a Zen Buddhist and self-made billionaire. He was often a brutal overseer, but a transformational leader nonetheless. He was a ruthless businessman, creative genius, and a minimalist.
How I Learn From Steve Jobs and Others
As a young Marine, the art of Brazilian Jujitsu struck a primitive chord inside of me. I would watch the YouTube videos of the young Royce Gracie traveling from gym to gym, fighting and beating every one of the “masters” of the martial arts they taught. I was hooked – to me, there was no other relevant fighting discipline.
Problem was, I had no one to teach me.
Whenever I come across something I want to learn, I find someone who has already learned that “something” (and learned it well), and I glean from their experience. When I wanted to become a better leader, I pursued time with the best leaders I knew. When I couldn’t find any, or they couldn’t make time for me, I studied the lives of great leaders in history, Steve Jobs being one of them.
In the case of my new sport of BJJ, I had to resort to instructional videos and writing on the subject until a friend introduced me to another Marine who had trained with one of the Gracie brothers.
Surprisingly, my studies had paid off well, and by the time I started training and sparring with him and his group, I had built a solid base of understanding that was easy to translate into practical application.
That’s my goal as I study the life of Steve Jobs and other great leaders who practiced minimalism – to learn and apply the lessons learned from their lives.
Was Steve Jobs a Minimalist?
These are the main things that show how Jobs was a minimalist:
1. Jobs spent a large portion of his time pursuing the art of Zen meditation: He would travel to Tassajara, the first Zen monastery in America, to spend weeks meditating and living the most minimalist lifestyle I can think of. Although Zen Buddhism isn’t my personal cup of Himalayan tea, there’s no denying their extreme approach to minimalism. What he took away from his experiences as a Zen Buddhist was highly minimalist concepts: simplicity of lifestyle and few material possessions:
“I remember going into Steve’s house and he had almost no furniture in it. He just had a picture of Einstein, whom he admired greatly, and he had a Tiffany lamp and a chair and a bed. He just didn’t believe in having lots of things around but he was incredibly careful in what he selected.”
2. His Apple products were minimalist in design: Think about the ipod. A small, simple rectangle with a wheel to scroll through songs. A screen and a wheel. And it was effective! The design of every Mac product was heavily influenced by the principles of minimalism, as the lifestyle and beliefs of Job’s left their mark.
3. He believed the most important actions were the simplifying, or minimizing ones:
John Sculley, former CEO of Apple said:
What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do – but the things that you decide not to do. He’s a minimalist.
Microsoft hires some of the smartest people in the world. They are known for their incredibly challenging test they put people through to get hired. It’s not an issue of people being smart and talented. It’s that design at Apple is at the highest level of the organization, led by Steve personally. Design at other companies is not there. It is buried down in the bureaucracy somewhere… In bureaucracies many people have the authority to say no, not the authority to say yes. So you end up with products with compromises. This goes back to Steve’s philosophy that the most important decisions are the things you decide NOT to do, not what you decide to do. It’s the minimalist thinking again.
Everyone around him knows he beats to a different drummer. He sets standards that are entirely different than any other CEO would set. He’s a minimalist and constantly reducing things to their simplest level. It’s not simplistic. It’s simplified. Steve is a systems designer. He simplifies complexity.
Steve Jobs was one of the most influential and successful minimalists in modern history. I’m looking forward to learning more from his life and approach to the minimalist lifestyle.