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On Making The Most Of Your Life: A Lesson From Bill Gates And Steve Jobs


Bill Gates
was recently interviewed on the Nightline TV show in the USA. He had some interesting things to say about the effect Steve Jobs‘ death had on him. Here is an extract from one report:

Gates is now no longer the world’s richest man, having given much of his money away. Since 1994, the Gates Foundation has given grants totalling more than $26bn to various charities and projects. But Jobs’ death served as a reminder to Gates that he needed to push on with his philanthropic efforts, he said in the interview.

“Well, it’s very strange to have somebody who’s so vibrant and made such a huge difference and been kind of a constant presence, to have him die. It makes you feel like, ‘Wow, we’re getting old.’ I hope I still have quite a bit of time for the focus I have now, which is the philanthropic work.”

“And there’s drugs we’re investing in now that won’t be out for 15 years – malaria eradication, I need a couple of decades here to fulfill that opportunity. But, you know, it reminds you that you gotta pick important stuff, because you only have a limited time.”

Christians may have eternity, but we only have this life to make a difference. Do we need that sense of urgency and prioritisation that Gates outlines here? I was thinking about that recently when going through a few months’ worth of blog posts by Michael Hyatt. He talked one day about how to avoid the power of the drift. The next day he asked, are you living your own dream or someone else’s?

How easy it is to stop being intentional about our lives. He made me pause. Is my life just going by, because I just do the day-to-day stuff and don’t think about the longer term? It’s easy to do when you’re caught up in busyness and pressure. I realised I’d got as far as knowing some of the things I don’t want to achieve in ministry – most of which involve a distaste for climbing the greasy pole of the religious hierarchy. But I hadn’t fully explored the obverse. What are the positive things I want to do and to contribute? What gifts can I offer that will make a difference?

I realised that ‘ordinary’ circuit ministry only goes part of the way to answering that question. I enjoy it and I don’t disdain it, but I need something more on top. I’d still like it to be have an academic slant, but the doors aren’t open at present.
I can write, though, and if you’ve wondered why the number of blog posts has been increasing lately, that’s the reason. Some might think that writing is a poor relation to Gates’ philanthropy, but words have power to sway hearts and minds. And yes, I need to back up words with my own actions.

So I’ve been starting by trying to use the down time I’m allowed each day (our big bad rule book encourages us to spend up to an hour a day away from ordinary ministry) to research and write a blog post, such as this one. At the very least that will be good discipline. I’ve ordered a book that is recommended in some circles to help explore the more creative side of my personality – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and happily that came in the post today. So let’s see how we go!

But it has to be a question for each of us: are we maximising the gifts we have been given and following our call to change some corner of the world? We may not have Gates’ billions, but in other ways we have all that and more.

So –  how are we making a difference? Have we started? Why not? Let’s drop the excuses.

Death Of A Salesman: Some Christian Reflections On Steve Jobs

Here is my text, and it is taken from a friend’s Facebook profile. She said she

does not feel the need to either beatify or demonize Steve Jobs. I acknowledge that his presence on earth had a significant effect on human history.

I  only own one Apple product: an iPod. Why don’t I own an iMac, a MacBook, an iPhone or an iPad? Firstly, because I can’t afford them. Secondly, because there are certain diplomacies in our family, when a close relative works for Microsoft. Yes, Windows frustrates me at times, and perhaps it would be nice to have a product that allegedly ‘just works’, but that also means re-educating the entire family to a new operating system. Besides, like a car mechanic who doesn’t mind owning a lesser car because he can fix the problems, I can often work out (at least with the help of Google) what to do when we have a problem, and I learn as a result.

Ultimately, finance and functionality are the reasons I don’t buy Apple. It would be nice to have the aesthetically pleasing designs, but on a limited budget the bang to buck equation is about getting the specifications I need. Apple aesthetics are a luxury I can’t afford. But certainly I have to acknowledge that was one innovation Steve Jobs brought into computing. Not for him the world of beige boxes, the man who studied calligraphy wanted products to beautiful as well as simple and workable. Might it be that especially in the free churches, we so concentrate on function at the expense of beauty that we are utilitarian Christians?
I bear Steve Jobs’ family and friends no ill. But in the days since his death, a lot of twaddle has been written, and a lot of Diana-style hysteria has been expressed. Cult Of Mac seems exactly the right title.  The secular website Gawker got it right, I think: Steve Jobs was not God. We have heard that Jobs ‘gave’ us various things. No, he didn’t: he sold us things. (And dreams, too.) Or that he ‘invented’ things. No, the inventors were Steve Wozniak and his successors. Jobs was a salesman and a showman. That isn’t necessarily wrong, either: it just depends how you exercise it.
The genius of Jobs (if genius is not an overused word) was not as an originator, but as one who took products that were failing to reach the mass market and transforming them into propositions that did. The Apple II was not the first personal computer, the Altair 8800 had beaten it, but arguably the Apple created the market. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but he popularised it. Likewise, there were tablet computers before the iPad, but he bossed the market and made it attractive. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Jobs was the technological John Wesley? Wesley mostly took existing theological ideas and made them explode with power (the one exception, perhaps being his doctrine of Christian perfection).

If Jobs had an area of originality, I would suggest it was iTunes: he took all the sanctimonious moaning of the recording industry about pirating, and forced them into a fairly reasonable pricing model. Other download sites have since, in my opinion, rushed through the open gate created to provide a better and often cheaper service.

Then, although selling is a dirty concept in Christianity, I have to admire the man’s enthusiasm in his product unveilings. Having famously taken such detailed interest in the precise design of products, I take the excitement he projected when unveiling a new toy as utterly genuine. For those of us in the church who have got tired, jaded and cynical, a dose of Jobs’ passion for what he introduced – even though we do not sell the Gospel – could be good for us.
Jobs has been compared to various people in the last few days, from Thomas Edison to Walt Disney. Whatever the merits, I suggest two British comparisons: Richard Branson and Felix Dennis. Like Jobs, they were ex-hippies who made vast fortunes in business. Dennis, perhaps, is the most striking, as the editor of Oz magazine who was imprisoned, but who now heads up the Dennis Publishing empire. Compare that to Jobs, who dropped out, travelled to India, took LSD and took up Buddhism – although where his Buddhism influenced his business is far from certain. At least his arch-rival Bill Gates set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Perhaps nowhere is Jobs’ post-hippie business philosophy better seen than in his famous Stanford University Commencement Address of 2005. While it also contains powerful statements such as those on how the certainty of death should focus everyone’s life (he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before), some of it is a shallow, individualist, follow your own road creed. If you don’t have time to watch the entire fifteen minutes below, the text with annotated commentary can be found here.

And he finesses the story in places. Is it true that ‘Windows just copied the Mac’? More likely it’s true that both copied the GUI (Graphical User Interface) they saw at the Xerox PARC Research Center.
I have no desire to be cruel about Jobs. I leave that to the nasty words of people like Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, whose comments at the time of Jobs’ death were so foul I shall not even link to them here. But I do wish there was a sense of realism. Jobs was the visionary and extremely clever CEO of a consumer products company. Yes, a massively influential one. But just as Princess Diana’s funeral overshadowed the death of Mother Teresa the day before, so on the same day as Steve Jobs died, a hero of the American Civil Rights Movement also passed away, the Revd Fred Shuttlesworth (as the Gawker article I linked to above notes). Which one contributed more to the kingdom of God? That has to be a Christian question. Because for God, it is less about the feted celebrities and more about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Rest in peace, Mr Jobs. May your loved ones find comfort in your passing. But may the rest of us stop getting carried away.