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Steve Jobs and the power of focus

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Steve Jobs holding a MacBook Air at MacWorld Conference & Expo 2008 (Credit: Matthew Yohe via en.wikipedia.org)

Steve Jobs was born in 1955 to two graduate students, one a Syrian and the other an American. He grew up with an adopted family in Silicon Valley. He was a high school summer employee at Hewlett-Packard when he met future Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1971. He enrolled at Reed College in Oregon, then dropped out after one semester.

After a trip to India, where he became a Buddhist, he returned to California. He and Wozniak formed their company in 1976 and unveiled their first computer, Apple 1. It was a do-it-yourself kit with a blank printed circuit board, a collection of parts, and 16 pages of instructions. You had to provide your own power supply, keyboard, and display.

He produced the iMac in 1998, the iPod in 2001, and the iTunes Store in 2003. In 2007 he unveiled the iPhone, which quickly sold six million units. In April 2010 he introduced the iPad, which sold more than a million units in less than a month. After battling pancreatic cancer and other health issues, on Wednesday Jobs notified the Apple board that he was unable to continue as chief executive.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt labels him “the most successful CEO in the U.S. of the last 25 years.” Former eBay chief Meg Whitman calls him “the business genius of our generation.” Jobs is just as famous for what he has chosen not to do. He is driven by a passion for linking technology and art, and has refused to veer from his vision for the company. In fact, he was forced from Apple in 1985 after a series of clashes with company leaders, but brought back in 1996 after the company nearly fell into bankruptcy.

Focus is critical to success. For instance, contrast Sony with Apple. After Sony’s chief executive retired, the company made a series of bad investments and lost its vision. In 2000, its market value was more than seven times Apple’s. Today, Sony’s market value is one-17th that of Job’s creation.

I have placed four statements in my study where I can see them every day. The first is a Hasidic (mystical Jewish) saying, “Everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him, and then choose that way with all his strength.” The second is by New Testament scholar William Barclay: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'”

The third is from Aristotle: excellence is “expressing your highest talent to its fullest measure.” The fourth is Ezra 7:10: “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”

To what have you devoted yourself?