The Zen of Steve Jobs by Forbes and JESS3On this week’s reading list is The Zen of Steve Jobs, by Forbes and JESS3. Released earlier this year, the graphic novel re-imagines the myth of Steve Jobs, and his friendship with mentor and Buddhist priest Kobun Chino Otogawa.

The story begins with Jobs and Otogawa meeting at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a decade after they had last seen each other, with Jobs over-eagerly asking for advice on how to build the perfect computer for his new company, NeXT. In return, Otogawa can promise only to help teach Jobs the Buddhist principle of MA, which involves “the relationships between objects and space,” and can be learned through intensive meditation.

The novel beautifully illustrates (literally) the role of MA in Apple’s products: the simple, circular functionality that you may be most familiar with in the iPod control wheel.

The story shows how Jobs was successful in turning around Apple by drastically eliminating, narrowing, and focusing Apple’s product development. Certainly, refining business scope and mission is a practice that could help almost any company.

In the story, both Jobs and Otogawa are portrayed as renegades in their social circles – Otogawa leaving his monestary for California against the permission of his monk, and Jobs’ famous temperament - both breaking from tradition to pursue the lives that they wanted.

Meditation on calligraphy is used to show the interaction between the objects and space that surrounds us. Here, the principle of MA in Apple products might be understood as how they simply “just work.”

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Sadly, during a visit by Kobun after several years of absence, the end of the story shows Jobs fully preoccupied with gadgets in his Apple office, as he prepares to launch the iPod.

Ultimately, the meditation on calligraphy serves as the cornerstone of the entire story: “Calligraphy can tell you a lot about a person … It is the mark you leave … Hopefully it is the mark you wanted to leave … because it is all you are left with.”

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