Skip to main content

In life, whenever you’re striving toward something extraordinary, there is one difficulty you’ll face: time. Great things take time. But if you’re wise, you can use time to your advantage, continually improving yourself, the quality of your work, and slowly getting closer to creating a lasting impact on the world.

 One person who has spent his life studying the relationship between age and success is the psychologist Dean Simonton. In his research, he discovered that the quality of what you make is correlated with the quantity. Explaining himself by saying, 

“The creators with the most masterpieces will be those with the most ignored and neglected products! Even the most supreme creative geniuses must have their careers punctuated with wasted efforts.” 

Although Simonton looks at many in history, from Michelangelo to Beethoven, it’s good to test his theory on someone of our time. While examining Simonton’s conclusions, we can combine his insights with what we already know about creativity – looking at the specific techniques you can use to produce your own masterpieces.

In saying that, who else better to look at than Steve jobs. He lived an incredible life and employed many useful methods to make his mark on the world and leave it a better place. Since much is known about him, we can see how, when, and where he used such methods, learning from and being inspired by his efforts, to do exceptional work ourselves. 

 Explore Your Curiosities

In Simonton’s work, he notes that grades and IQ have little correlation with creative success. Instead, you have to be willing to explore new things. For Steve, when at university, he cared more about amusing himself with pranks and practical jokes, only attended classes if they were interesting. As fate would have it, one of those classes was a calligraphy course, which stuck with him and influenced the entire typography at Apple.

Take Risks but Start Small

Jobs took risks that few would dare of. For instance, at just 20 he founded Apple in an industry he knew little about. Though it’s obvious in hindsight that this risk paid off, its success hinged on the small steps he took. Instead of foolishly jumping into it, he partnered with the technical genius Wozniak to help him, he started in his garage, and only did it because he saw an opportunity with new circuitry and knew the timing was right.

Find What Works

Apple’s first products were the Apple I, II, and III. Apple I was moderately successful but more of a working prototype. The Apple II was a tremendous success and launched the company. However, the Apple III failed, “a dud” as Jobs described. From this experience, Jobs learned the importance of figuring things out through trial and error. He understood that the solution to uncertainty was to make things, learn from your mistakes, and try again. The end result of this effort led to the creation of the beloved Macintosh.

Have the Right Mindset

Steve is well-known for his slogan “Think Different”. With that, and his notorious reality distortion field, Jobs looked at the world as if it was malleable. He saw it as the accumulated effort of people no smarter than you. To him, if you could develop the right perspective, overcoming the doubts of others, doing what they deem impossible or foolish, you were on your way to making something special. 

Be Inspired 

Steve saw inspiration everywhere, and at the outset of his career, he was inspired by a study that found humans could surpass every animal in efficiency when they rode a bicycle. That insight helped him recognise how he could benefit others. Because, if everyone could have a personal computer, it would be a “bicycle for the mind”, changing humanity forever. And he was right. 

Quality First 

When Steve was a boy, his father taught him a valuable lesson when they were building their fence. His father built both sides, even though no one saw the back. From this, Steve would always say, “because you will know”. This philosophy for making everything perfect influenced Steve to the end. And at Apple, the whole experience is flawless, even the unboxing of the packaging – which gets thrown away. 

Learn from the Successes of Others 

Steve learned from everyone, from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, from Gandhi to George Lucas. He observed what other exceptional people did to perform at the highest level or be unique, mixing it together to be original himself, with one of his favourite lines being “great artists steal’. 

Learn from the Failures of Others 

Steve didn’t just look at the success of others. He looked at their failures. The clearest example was with Xerox and Pepsi, where he found that monopolies stagnated when they put marketing people ahead of product people. This destroyed the customer’s experience and he never wanted that to happen. Therefore, he would only hire A-players who knew what it meant to make a great product with perfect craftsmanship. 

Tinker with Ideas 

When being creative, you should look at all ideas, criticising, applying, or combining them in ways no one thinks of. Steve himself fused math and psychology to the design of Apple’s devices. He wanted rectangles with round edges, thinking carefully about how they would feel in our hands and how they would look with other objects in the world 

Do Your Own Thing 

In retrospect, Steve never imitated anyone to copy their success, but experimented and remained authentic. This is clear when he and Jony Ive made the Apple stores. They didn’t want to sell it in ugly retail centres and knew that even the short-lived experience of going to the store had to be perfect. As such, with their minimalist and glass aesthetic, they changed the architecture and interior design industry, and now everyone copies them. 

Start Now 

Another discovery made by Simonton is to start as soon as possible. This not only increases your chances of success once, but multiple times. And this is evident in Steve’s career. When he was 30, he was fired from Apple, but in a strange circle of life, he was asked to return 12 years later to fix the company. In those 12 years, he made NeXT, which then became the MAC OS, and he co-founded Pixar which changed the animation industry. Moreover, when he returned to Apple there was a cascade effect, resulting in the iPod, iTunes, iMac, iPhone, and the iPad. All because he started early. 

Follow Your Intuitions 

Though it is recommended to have a vision, not everything will be clear because success is not a straight path, and to achieve anything original is by definition uncertain. Steve realised this and said in a speech that you can only look forward by looking back and connecting the dots. This approach never let him down he said, because he knew that you had to listen to your gut, worry less, and trust the process along the way. 

Find What Gives You Meaning 

Unfortunately, Steve died at the age of 56. But he only did things he felt were valuable to the rest of us. From him, we can see the importance of not waiting. You should build what you feel needs to exist in the world, whether it’s a business, an artwork, or even winning a championship; and start on it right now. There will never be a moment in life where everything is perfect. Life is precious and short for us all, and it’s better spent failing at the things we love, than succeeding at what we hate. 

Age and Success

Steve’s major success in life came after he was 47, when returned to Apple. He used time to his advantage, getting better at his craft and understanding how to make a successful company with world-changing products. Now Apple, which was once a company with two people in a garage, is worth over a trillion.

He is a modern proof to Simonton’s theories and a model of those creative techniques you can apply in your career. And, reflecting on these lessons, we can read through the words of Apple’s famous campaign, letting it remind us of we need, to be successful:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones. We see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” 


Written by: Jacob Tarlington