Friday, October 7, 2011

Explaining Steve Jobs

I'd like to try to discuss the thing about Steve Jobs that everyone's dancing around - the thing Jobs himself danced around on the few occasions he tried to explain himself.

I'll give it a name. But I'll dance around some, too, because I won't try to define that name. The naming will help, though, because once you have even a vague, intuitive notion of what I'm describing, you'll start seeing it everywhere. It's the thing that made Jobs Jobs - and made Apple so successful and capable of changing all our lives.

People never get to the root of this thing which I haven't yet named. They poke around surfaces, trying to reverse-engineer a recipe, figuring they can achieve similar results by reducing it to rules and then following those rules. Silly humans! JS Bach composed deeply beautiful and inspiring chorales, which musicologists later explained via a series of rules which theoretically allow anyone to whip up chorales of their own. Composers follow those rules even today, though their work is seldom beautiful or inspiring.

Whatever it is, it ain't in the rules. The rules always come after. Bach wasn't following rules. You don't get anywhere great from canned recipes. And, yes, I've just restated one of the primary rules Jobs-watchers (and even Jobs himself) have frequently cited. But, you see, the rule is never the thing. And "the thing" is too slippery to explain directly. I wrote about magic several months ago, describing it as the last undefined term, and the only one with any power left. So here's another facet of all that:


Like "magic", I won't neuter it by trying to define it (you may google and wiki it all you'd like, but you'll only drift further and further away). But you've seen shakti at work. It's what powers those moments when humans do extraordinary things.

Remember how Chris Rock was just so-so on SNL, but then he did that first TV special, and he wasn't just funny, he was deeply, deeply brilliant; so lucid, so razor-sharp, so oh-my-god-I-just-can't-stand-it that you knew a whole other thing was happening? It wasn't just a good comedian getting better. It was an entirely new level. Shakti!

Keith Jarrett's legendary Koln Concert was a great big wave of Shakti, and you can hear it mounting if you listen closely. Einstein's theory of General Relativity, which popped out of nowhere from the 37 year old mind of a respected but not exceptional scientist (who never reached those heights again) was another example.

Whenever someone pushes their game up to Infinity, giving chills or changing the world (regardless of whether the world notices), that's Shakti. It's the ozone one smells during the lightning flash of profound creativity. And it's the fabric of the lightning itself. We know it intimately, because without a squirt of Shakti, we're all just bags of meat. With a full jolt of it, creativity is boundless, and we are elevated, for a moment, to the Divine.

An indescribable sense of elevation galvanizes your attention. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Picasso's Guernica. The kindness of New Yorkers on 9/12/01. The first hug of new love. Susan Boyle singing her heart out on that sappy song. Stephen Colbert's wit, at least once per show. The Arepa Lady on a good night. Rising unexpectedly to an occasion...that's Shakti. When someone kisses you so ardently you have to breathlessly pull away, that's shakti. Most of all, when you recognize, with astonishment, that someone's lavished heart-breaking love and caring generosity and ingenuity into something - so much so that you almost can't stand it, that's Shakti.

"Almost can't stand it." That's it right there. People love their iPhones so much they almost can't stand it. And their iPads. And there was always a buzz to be caught from the unlikely childlike sincerity of Jobs' keynote speeches. Such feelings don't make you a fanboy or a materialistic yuppie. Apple's devices are transcendent, because they are steeped in Shakti. It's incredibly contagious.

What's the source of Steve Jobs' Shakti? He tried to explain in his Stanford commencement address. Ironically, he condensed it into rules. That's always what happens. Again, the rule's not the thing (must one dutifully obey a command to "Think Different"?). You can't codify it. You just gotta surrender to the Shakti. Simple as that.

How does that come about? While I've not used the actual word (except here), I've been quietly writing about just that here for several years - especially in the entries you may have least felt like reading. This is territory few modern, sophisticated, educated people want to go near (as much as they may covet the results). Jobs wasn't actually very sophisticated. He wasn't even a college grad. What he was, even with all his deep flaws, was one of our era's foremost karma yogis. And the ozone-like smell in the air this week - so palpable, as multitudes feel unexpectedly crestfallen over his death, and suddenly realize that his creativity was of an entirely different, transcendent level, utterly permeated with love and caring generosity and ingenuity - is the contrail of his shakti.


Mara said...

You better stop giving away all the secrets of the universe.

Jim Leff said...

"Secrets" are for Bach scholars. There is no recipe.

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