With the death of Steve Job’s many people have been eulogizing him and writing about his contribution to American innovation and industry. With this entry, I will add my own two cents by quoting a few paragraphs from my book.  The story is taken from Steve Job’s 2005 speech at Stanford University’s graduation ceremony. If you haven’t heard that speech (available on iTunes), it is well worth listening to it. Below is what I wrote in my book: Sometimes seemingly random or unrelated experiences play a significant part in a creative breakthrough. Steve Jobs, the chairman of Apple Computer, told a story to Stanford graduates at the 2005 commencement about how the idea of using typography and multiple fonts was introduced to computers.

After his first semester at Reed College, he dropped out. He remained at the school, sleeping on the floors of friends’ dorm rooms and making ends meet by returning empty bottles for the deposit. One of the advantages of not being a student enrolled for a degree was that he had no course requirements. Simply out of curiosity, he ended up sitting in on a calligraphy course. In that course he learned all about typefaces, fonts, letter spacing, serif versus sans-serif, and what it took to make the printing of letters a beautiful art form.

The course had no practical value that he could imagine, but he took pleasure in gaining an appreciation for typography. Ten years and an entire world later, he was involved in the brand new field of personal computing. The seemingly random experience of having sat in on the typography course at Reed College became an impetus for the design of the Macintosh computer user interface and set a standard that emphasized typography and font choice for all word processing software to come.

Curiosity leads us down paths we might otherwise never take. Curiosity means pursuing something that does not necessarily have an obvious purpose. We examine something and follow the path that we are led along merely because it seems interesting. Steve Jobs was curious about calligraphy and decided to sit in on a class. I'm sure he had no obvious goal in doing this. Curiosity leads to connections, often seemingly bizarre connections that can form the basis for new ideas. In this case, Job’s curiosity eventually led to the use of multiple fonts in word processors.

The ability to choose a font on a word processing program is now taken for granted. One could say it is obvious. But take yourself back to the days of typewriters. The days when computers were scientific and business machines and the primary mode of documentation was typing. Most people did not even know what the word font meant, and if they did, they would be hard-pressed to name a single one. What kind of thinker would have blended the idea of multiple fonts, or calligraphy, with what were then "calculating machines"?

His message to the graduates that commencement day was to follow their instincts and curiosity; to soak up all the experience that they can; for you never know when or how it will come to benefit you.


If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!