When I first beheld the Mac in early 1984 (one of the few places the word ‘beheld’ actually fits), I knew life had changed. We were looking at a time-compression machine: a nod to the accelerated reinvention of things that wouldn’t completely take hold until the next century. I was a magazine publisher then—just before spending 12 years as a fly fishing guide—and saw the Mac as a tipping point—proof, in a machine, that publishing, and life, wouldn’t continue the way we had all convinced ourselves it would.
What does Steve Jobs’s life have to do with fly fishing, really? He was only a techy, back when being techy meant you couldn’t be anything else.
He was designing gadgets, curating and combining ideas from Xerox PARC and anywhere big brains could be found. And now, after his death, he is now considered to have been one of the best CEOs of the past hundred years, proving year after year that he could make difficult strategic decisions in the face of huge criticism. What’s the average fly fisher to take from his legacy?
Just these things: Jobs failed as often as he succeeded, especially in the first twenty years of his career. He understood better than anyone that failure was the secret ingredient in success, that persistent experimentation was the only way to go. As described in Malcolm Gladwell’s important New Yorker article back in May, Jobs knew that there “is nothing neat and efficient about creativity. ‘The more successes there are,’ [psychologist Dean Simonton says], ‘the more failures there are as well’—meaning that the person who had far more ideas than the rest of us will have far more bad ideas than the rest of us, too.’” Further, Apple’s success as a company derived from going slower than many competitors, tweaking, pausing, thinking, and insisting that everything they did was intentional, not the product of momentary obsession. Doing business pragmatically, with an almost tyrannical commitment to process, resulted in products that were rule-bending.
So the next time you are told there’s only one way to tie a fly, that all the good fishing ideas have been thought of and tried, to hurry up or you’ll miss the best fishing; or you think that a string of failed casts means that you’ve lost your juju, or believe that the fly fishing “experts” were bestowed a magical talent that means they’ll always catch the most fish, remember Steve Jobs.