Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs says: Drop out and Tune In

In all the hoopla (some might say cult-like obsession) surrounding the death of Steve Jobs, one important facet of his biography sticks out to me: the intellectual basis of his vision was not acquired through traditional education.

Here's a quote from Wired Magazine's tribute to Jobs' life:

He went to Reed, a well-regarded liberal arts school known as a hippie haven, but dropped out after a semester, choosing to audit courses informally. (Including a class on calligraphy that would come in very handy in later years.) Jobs also took LSD in those years, and would claim that those experiences affected his outlook permanently and positively. After leaving Oregon, he traveled to India. All of these experiences had an effect on the way he saw the world — and the way he would make products to change that world.

Now, this blog is not advocating LSD. Though I would like to visit India. To me, the real key is that Jobs was a self-motivated and adventurous explorer of ideas. Instead of following an academic program, he took classes he wanted to take. During a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Jobs mentions how important the calligraphy class was to the creation of the personal computer (or, I guess, more technically, the graphic interface). What if he had been restricted with a particular course load, or unable to fit calligraphy into the little boxes of his degree checklist?

To me, this suggests a need for less rigid majors and departments, more freedom, and an educational institution that nurtures more adventure and experiment. Where can the truly independent, vision-seeking student go? Most of them, like Jobs, leave institutionalized education. (Though, of course, he was still auditing official courses...a strange paradox. In a sense he was creating his own educational program, incorporating official and unofficial learning.)

Maybe that's the way it has to be. Perhaps, as long as institutions exist, visionaries will be dropping out. Or maybe the life of Steve Jobs will encourage us to reconsider the entire structure of modern schooling.

1 comment:

  1. You might assume that the teaching of Accounting (my discipline) does not offer many for adventure. I have often pondered how we could teach a concept and then spend eight hours working in a local "real" department to practice that concept. This is certainly how the more technical training programs do it.