You Are Underestimating the Future

I do this talk called “The Engineer, The Designer, and The Dictator”, and it’s a talk about the things I love. It’s a little bit about the nature of engineers and why I think we might have more power than we deserve. I talk about designers, the creators of art, and how I want the engineers and designers to party together more. Lastly, I talk about the importance of dictators — forces of nature whose vision is terrifyingly clear and whom we willingly follow even though we’re a little scared of them. I explain how a dictator mediates the battle between art and science with a curious mind, an iron fist, and taste.

Yeah, it’s about Steve.

My first thought as I stared long and hard at Apple’s home page yesterday wasn’t a specific Steve story or one of his many insightful quotes. The thought was…

You are underestimating the future. You are fretting about the now; worrying about little things that don’t matter. You are wasting precious energy obsessing over irrelevant details. You don’t believe that a better future is out there and can be built, that it can exceed people’s expectations, because you’re spending so much time considering the truth of the present and the seemingly important lessons of the past.

 

You are underestimating the future because you believe you cannot see it, but you can – you’ve seen it done before.

My favorite video of Steve was shortly after his return to Apple. He wasn’t CEO yet; he was still consulting and was speaking on the last day of 1997’s WWDC. It wasn’t a prepared speech; it was Q&A, an open microphone where anyone could apparently ask Steve Jobs anything. (Steve starts at 2:12)

 

I’ve watched this video a few times, and what consistently impressed me wasn’t just his ability to elegantly answer random and sometimes hostile questions from an audience, it was the fact that it was abundantly clear what he wanted Apple to be. Again: 1997.

I was an Apple employee for eight and half years and I didn’t see the video until after I’d left the company. For those who worked there and for those who have watched Apple’s success, what resonates from this crackly old video is that it was clear that Steve could see the future. He may have given features, products, and strategies different names at the time, but so much of what Apple has become is described in a video from almost 14 years ago.

Steve didn’t underestimate the future; he could see it, and, more importantly, he built it.

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