When Steve Jobs learned to dance

When Steve Jobs learned to dance - image for article by Greg Alder

Did you know that Steve Jobs learned to dance? He took dance lessons whilst studying at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. (Actually, he’d dropped out of formal study, but he hung around campus and attended classes that interested him.)

He took those dance classes for the same reason most men at Reed College did. To meet women. His tutor was Judy Massee, Professor of Dance at the college.

Whether the dance lessons fulfilled their original purpose, I don’t know. But a few years later, they were to prove valuable in an unexpected way.

Steve Jobs was working at Atari. Those dance lessons had given him an appreciation of how the body moves. He used that knowledge in video game design, to create more fluid and natural movement.

Dance wasn’t the only course that Steve Jobs attended. Another was a calligraphy course taught by a Trappist monk named Robert Palladino.

That course gave him an appreciation of typefaces. Years later when he and Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne founded Apple, his love of typography influenced the graphics incorporated into Apple computers.

He might never have taken that calligraphy course if Robert Palladino had remained a Trappist monk, but the monk had fallen in love with Catherine Halverson, clarinettist in the Portland Orchestra.

Steve Jobs told an audience at Stanford University in 2005, “If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.”

Creativity connects unexpected things. Things that don’t appear to have any connection. Often these things are experiences. In the case of Steve Jobs, these things were dance and calligraphy and personal computers.

The more experiences you have (or that your colleagues have), the greater the opportunity for creative magic to happen.

I’ve met people who seem to be closed to new experiences. They are reliving the same experiences over and over, trapped in a comfortable routine that’s killing any chance of creativity. I am sure you have met people like this. They are old at 20. They live in a cocoon. They mix with people just like them.

A few years ago, researchers learnt that people with broad social networks (that is, their friends come from varied cultures, are varied in age and work in varied fields) are 3 times more creative than those whose social networks are limited to people from their same culture, age and business. Not surprising.

There’s a newly observed passion for collecting experiences, rather than possessions. I think there are 2 reasons for this. First, we have seen that possessions alone don’t bring happiness. Second, possessions rarely inspire creativity – and we are living in one of humanity’s most exciting creative periods.

In workshops, I always encourage participants to explore their creative interests – whether playing an instrument, taking dance lessons, building model boats or gardening. One reason? Creative expression has been proven to enhance happiness. Another reason? One day – who knows when? – those interests, those experiences will connect with other experiences and create something new and unexpected and remarkable. Just as they did for Steve Jobs.

Photo by Andrei Lazarev via Unsplash

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