Friday, April 17, 2020

The Power of Intensity

I recently finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It’s a well-written book and I enjoyed reading it. I learned many interesting things from the book, but here I’d like to focus on just one trait of Steve Jobs that pretty much describes his life: intensity.

Time and again, the book describes how intense Jobs was in whatever he did. When he thought that something was worth doing, he would throw his entire being into it. He would take it further than what other people would. In the words of one person who knew him, he would “carry it to the extreme”.

One example was his approach to food. He decided early on that he would be a vegetarian. And he did become a strict vegetarian. Only when he was ill did he relent a bit and incorporate eggs into his diet. He was so strict that it became an issue when he was ill because he wouldn’t consume the meal that’s necessary for his health.

Another example was his approach to product development. In this case, his intensity took the form of perfectionism. He simply didn’t tolerate any flaw. He would insist that everything must be done perfectly. For instance, when developing the first Mac he asked the button to be redesigned again and again. The designers protested, but Jobs said that it’s important to do things right.

Intensity is good; it can help you achieve things that are impossible otherwise. But you must keep it under control. Here are a few things I learn about intensity:

1. Find something you believe in
You can’t be intense on something you don’t believe in. The problem is, many people do things they don’t believe in because they are pursuing something else (for instance, money). Jobs focused on building great products above everything else. With a few exceptions, he always worked on something he believed in. That’s why he was able to do it intensely.
So find something you believe in. Don’t be satisfied with doing something just for the money, fame, or other external rewards. Doing what you believe in is the prerequisite to doing something great.

2. Throw your heart and soul into it
Once you find something you believe in, throw your heart and soul into it. Put your entire being into it. Aim to make it as good as you can. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s something that we all can learn.

3. Avoid distractions
Your energy is limited. So, if you want to be intense, you can’t do too many things. You should focus your energy on just a few things. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Jobs repeatedly talked about the importance of focus. When he became the interim CEO of Apple in 1997, he dropped many projects that he thought were distracting. Instead, he focused the company’s energy on just a handful of key products. That turned out to be the right decision.
You should learn to say no even to seemingly good opportunities. Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

4. Be realistic
Though it’s good to be intense and aim for excellence, you should also be realistic. As Jobs once said, real artists ship. So make sure that you actually get things done.

5. Keep it balanced
Being intense is good, but being too intense is bad. Jobs tended to fall on the extreme side of it and as a result he hurt some people. I don’t think that’s good. While you need to be intense, you should also keep it balanced. Don’t be too intense on something that you sacrifice the other areas of your life (for example, your relationships).

What are your thoughts on it? Feel free to share them in the comments.
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