Why Steve Jobs's Passion for Calligraphy Is an Important Example for You
By intentionally exercising your creative muscle, new opportunities naturally follow.
In 1972, Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class at Reed College based on campus posters he saw after dropping out. The poster fonts themselves were artistic enough to catch his eye, and he audited this class, despite knowing the class would earn him no credit towards a degree.
Today, designers and marketers alike have nearly unlimited fonts and creative user interfaces for our digital devices. In a world dominated by ones and zeros, we all owe Jobs a debt of gratitude for bringing creativity into the world of technology.
Jobs was certainly hooked on the creativity of calligraphy. But there were additional creative foundational elements the class instilled in his mind that many business owners can use to reshape their brand and compete at a higher level.
Creativity: It’s a muscle you can exercise
All human beings are born creative and have the ability to exercise and develop their creativity muscle.
We encourage our children to experiment, express and explore creatively. Drawing outside the lines is not frowned upon until you register for a class in architecture.
As we begin our journey into reading, writing and arithmetic, however, the outlets for creativity diminish. Without consistently expressing ourselves, like muscle atrophy, our creative muscles also lose their strength without exercise.
Jobs intuitively knew to expand his creativity muscle when he invested his time into a calligraphy class at Reed. In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, he spoke about his calligraphy class, saying,
“I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.”
Taking a class or course that focuses on creativity for no other reason other than artistic expression can naturally cross over into creativity in business.
Processes: Learn from alternate industries
We learn primarily through our vision. Our minds are wired visually and with tens of millions of images vying for our attention, but we can only process a very small percentage of it.
Remember the last time you were going to buy a car? Before you decided on that Subaru, you may have never noticed them on the road. After you narrowed down your search, you see them everywhere. That’s our brain filtering content with our reticular activating system.
Unfortunately, with limited resources of time and visual acuity, we tend to only learn from leaders in our own industry. I’m pretty sure Jobs had no intention of creating wedding invitations as a calligrapher, but as he immersed himself into the art of calligraphy, the act of calligraphy opened up creativity in other areas. Calligraphy not only boosted his creativity muscle, but during the creative process, creativity naturally spilled over into other areas — computers.
In the book, I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words, Jobs famously stated, “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
If you are in the services industry, study manufacturing best practices. This can even be applied to segments inside your industry. If you are involved in marketing, study economics or history.
Experiential: Power off the computer
While drawing curves with ink and paper are a serious separation from the bits and bytes of the computer world, there is an unspoken element of creativity and muscle memory that is often overlooked.
A recent study by John Hopkins University demonstrated the power of experiential learning specifically with the written word. While writing by hand is going the way of the Dodo bird by the ease of a computer keyboard, this study found we shouldn't be so quick to discard the pencils and paper. In a study of 42 adults learning Arabic, handwriting helped the participants learn the language surprisingly faster and significantly better than learning the same material through typing or watching videos.
Jotting down ideas or journaling by hand has been shown to unlock increased creativity in our minds and in our work.
Flow: Power off your brain
Creativity, like losing weight, can’t be honed in a single session. Moreover, anyone who has had brilliant ideas in the shower knows, the removal of distractions opens up your creative juices.
There is immense value in emptying your mind, meditating or going for a walk in the woods. We can certainly glean ideas from other works of art, copy, and business models. But, modifying an idea is not the same as creating one. There is a clear distinction between evolution and revolution. Both have their place, but most significant breakthroughs in business and society come not from the evolution of an idea, but through revolution of a completely new way of looking at the world.
Switching off the distractions and putting yourself in a fresh environment creates fertile ground for exercising your creative muscle.
Being creative, mindful and curious can unlock hidden value in your brand. It wasn’t just the skill of calligraphy that Steve Jobs had picked — it was a mindset to think creatively and give something a unique touch.
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