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Never Settle! Secrets of an Innovator

Apple CEO Steve Jobs exemplifies lifelong learning and creativity.

After he left Reed for good, Jobs traveled to India in search of spiritual enlightenment, but the experience rekindled his interest in entrepreneurship, rather than convincing him to pursue monastic living. "I started to realize that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and [Indian guru] Neem Karoli Baba put together," Jobs concluded, according to the book iCon.

Toughest Boss. Upon his return, Jobs embarked on his business career, founding Apple Computer with Woz. Jobs didn't own a suit, and the company's headquarters was his parents' garage. Nevertheless, his persistence and tenacity allowed him to build up Apple at a very rapid clip. As he met with potential investors in Silicon Valley, Jobs would often refuse to leave meetings until phone calls were made to people who could fund him or a check was placed in his hand.

As Apple grew, Jobs developed a reputation as a gifted—and difficult—administrator. His ability to push programming and design teams to create superior products in impossibly short time frames led to an unusual nickname: the "reality distortion field." Jobs didn't just cajole and inspire, but also harangued and occasionally abused underlings. In 1993, he nabbed a spot on Fortune magazine's list of toughest bosses ever.

Nevertheless, Apple scored major triumphs under Jobs's leadership, particularly the Apple II computer and the Macintosh. Jobs also spearheaded an effort to place a computer in every school in America. While that project did not pan out—the legislation that would have made it possible didn't pass the U.S. Senate—the company did manage to put 10,000 Apple computers in California schools. "It was one of the most incredible things I've ever done," Jobs reflected several years later.

Despite his triumphs, by the mid 1980s Apple was ailing. As a 20-something, Jobs had been considered too unseasoned to become CEO, so he recruited the top officer at Pepsi with a compelling pitch: "Do you want to sell sugar water your whole life or do you want to change the world?" John Sculley accepted the offer, but he and Jobs had a falling out, and in 1985, Jobs was forced out of the company he had founded.

Jobs subsequently described the experience as "devastating." One of his close friends drove to his home when he heard the news, out of fear that Jobs might kill himself. Still, the millions of dollars Jobs had acquired at Apple provided a springboard to stage a comeback. His public rehabilitation did not happen overnight: While technically brilliant, NeXT ended up being a business flop, and Pixar floundered for years. But the cash Jobs had pumped into the animation studio turned out to be a brilliant investment. When the company finally released Toy Story in 1995, it was hailed as a watershed. Pixar went public one week later, making Jobs billions of dollars. Soon afterward, he rejoined Apple and subsequently designed and ushered to market a string of blockbuster products.

Make a Dent in the Universe. The man who led Apple in the late 1990s was different from Jobs's early-20s, renegade-of-technology incarnation. During his 11-year absence from the company, he had married Stanford MBA student Laurene Powell, and they went on to have three children. Jobs also established a relationship with a daughter he had fathered at the age of 23 (he never married her mother, his high-school sweetheart). Parenthood, observers say, mellowed the intense business executive.

By Jobs's own account, a searing brush with mortality helped him reevaluate what was most important to him. Two years ago, when he was 50, Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His doctor told him he had a few months to live. A biopsy later determined that Jobs suffered from a rare strand of the disease, which can be cured with surgery. His wife told Jobs that the doctors wept when they realized her husband would survive.

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