Steve Jobs, Whose Imagination Invited Us To Play

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You might see the insight that drove Steve Jobs' life when you watch a child with one of the products he designed, from a Mac laptop to an iPhone. It's playtime. Children — and adults — look, touch, try stuff and smile. Steve Jobs understood that creativity and play spring from the same source.

Most of the earliest machines we called computers looked grim, gray, bulky and forbidding, like the Death Star in a George Lucas film. They spoke a language that was obscure and off-putting, like RAM, ROM and CPU.

Steve Jobs gave computers sleek lines, soft edges, soda-pop colors and friendly faces. The Macs he created were the kind of computer you'd get a grandmother, because she said that she could never learn how to use a computer. Now she's probably surfing, Skyping, iChatting, banking online and making photo books of her grandchildren.

Steve Jobs also had to be a tough businessman and shrewd salesman to make his ideas real. But like an artist, composer or novelist, he devised dreams and invited people to step inside. The things he dreamed and helped design — iPods, iPads, iPhones, Macs, apps, and iTunes — don't boast about their specs so much as invite you to play.

"Wanna hear a song? Wanna see something cool? Wanna see something" — and this was Steve Jobs' favorite phrase — "insanely great?"

A singular, signature life like Steve Jobs' also invites you to see how he drew strengths from setbacks, failures and rejections. He was given up for adoption as a baby, but adopted by a loving couple. He dropped out of college, dabbled, drifted and slept on friends' floors, but slipped in and out to audit classes where he could drink in knowledge indiscriminately — playfully.

He even wound up viewing his 1985 ouster from Apple, the company he founded in his parents' garage when he was 20, as a chance to play once more.

"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again," he said. "I could be less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."

And indeed, Steve Jobs went on to create NeXT, a computer platform company, then transformed computer graphics with Pixar, before returning to Apple in 1996, where he changed the way the world hears music, saves memories and speaks across oceans.

In a business world that looks for safe bets and sure things, Steve Jobs imagined and played. His ideas became companies and, as he might have phrased it, insanely successful. But his creations kept an impish, playful personality. Steve Jobs remained the kind of kid who colored outside the lines. He was Genius 1.0.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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