My homeroom teacher for all of middle school was a man named Mr. Martin. As I remember him, he was of average height and stature, and wore a kind beard. He was the kind of man who had eyes that twinkled when he smiled, and betrayed the depth of his mind. He taught English, History, Math, Shop, and other general life skills to our class of about fifteen.
There are only a few moments I remember from that era of my life as vividly as a lecture he once gave to our class. I don’t recall the purpose of the lecture, but I do remember the message: “Be Observant”.
I bring this up because I add it to the list of things that Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech invites us to do: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, Be Observant.
“Be observant” works on several levels. To me, it means to never stop seeking knowledge. There is no knowledge that is not worth knowing. Learn from everyone. The now-famous calligraphy class is a perfect example of this. Jobs was observant – he knew that even though he was probably never going to become a calligrapher, the class’ knowledge would be worth it someday. And it was. If you are not observant, you will find that when it comes time to connect the dots, you will not have enough dots to connect.
According to the records I’ve read, Jobs was observant: he saw with his senses and his gut. Even if he didn’t know something, he knew how he felt about it and he would tell people that. And so he saw what other people did and emulated it. That is what being observant is.
“I don’t care how it works,” is a phrase I abhor. Learn everything. If you don’t know how something works, ask around. Google. Take it apart and put it back together. I urge everyone to learn how things work. Observe the entrails of your computer. Eviscerate your television. Stick your fingers into the guts of a cell phone.
I cannot pretend that I know everything about electronics. Far from it. But the important thing for me is to never stop learning about them. That is staying hungry. That is being observant.
If I am hungry and observant, I can be foolish – I have the prerequisites to experiment.
An unwillingness to learn will only leave you frustrated. Knowledge is power. Veritas est lux.
Mr. Martin worked as a melon-picker one summer. According to his tale, he hitchhiked around the southwest, and took a job digging up melons with short-handled shovels, which is brutal work – bent over all day in the sun. Even this is knowledge: knowledge of the human capacity, the source of food, the feeling of exhaustion. Knowledge is not only book knowledge, technological knowledge. Jobs trekked around India, knowing the feeling of starvation and disease.
We are the sum of our experiences: never stop seeking new ones out, or you will stagnate:
“If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently. (Steve Jobs, 1985 Playboy Interview)”
So stay observant, and you will learn new things that will help connect the dots later in life. Stay hungry, stay foolish, stay observant.