What the World Can Learn from Japan

Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster (Source: blogs.cas.suffolk.edu)

I have immense admiration and respect for the people of Japan. Not only because they have endured some of the most atrocious acts of war and constant threats of natural disasters with great bravery and resilience but also because they have decided to change their lives for the better by at least minimizing the man-made threats around them. I don’t know, maybe it takes massive misfortune to realize how precious life is and how responsible it is to make the world a safer place for others. You may not always agree with the Japanese, such as some of their eccentric dietary habits leading to whale hunting, which has been criticized widely by the Western media, but their approach towards Nuclear energy is something that the entire world, not just the West, should learn something from.

Probably the best piece of news that I read in my recent memory was that Japan had shut down it’s last nuclear reactor. This is a delightful development for anyone who realizes the risks of nuclear reactors present anywhere on the planet. The greatest thing to see was the Japanese people marching on to the roads and actually celebrating the shutting down of the last nuclear reactor. There were warnings that Japan could face a power shortage crisis if nuclear energy is abandoned for power production but the people insisted on going ahead with the closure of the power plants to make their country a much safer place. Call it just a reaction to the Fukushima nuclear plant leak after the recent devastating earthquake if you will, but it is an important step indeed.

While the idea of abandoning power generation through nuclear energy seems very right and noble and uncontroversial and whatnot, it is not really greeted so cheerfully around the world, whether you like it or not. As a matter of fact, people defend power generation through nuclear energy very enthusiastically, saying it is the safest way in the world to produce power. The primary rationale in Europe is that this method of power generation has very low carbon footprint. While that is right, but when you consider the potential risk to the surrounding populations, it does not seem like a very good idea, because Europe is not a very large continent in terms of area and population though it is also not one which is so sparsely populated. As a matter of fact, it is not just about Europe, a part of the world with a history of long wars. Even sparsely populated countries such as Russia would still be at great risk of the occurrence of such accidents.

I think humans tend to get a bit too selfish, as in most of other issues, when they discuss why nuclear energy is dangerous. All we think about is the risk of a potential disaster for the surrounding populations of the area but the responsibility is much greater than that. Because this encourages the proponents of nuclear energy for the construction of plants away from population. While that is the right thing to do in the first place, does it prevent the potential contamination of the environment and the spread of the nuclear waste to other areas, as we witnessed in the nuclear accidents in the past? Of course, you should be pissed about nuclear tests anyway, absolutely unacceptable. The point here is that we are putting the entire environment of the planet in danger because of exposure to nuclear contamination and that jeopardizes all the flora and fauna of the world and not just human life. Furthermore, it endangers the very possibility of life on the planet in the long run.

The fact that we often ignore is that there is no place “safe enough” for building a nuclear plant, let alone for testing a nuclear weapon. There is no place immune to a natural disaster and probably there is no nuclear plant which is absolutely infallible and invincible.

Call it cowardice and losing a great energy source but energy at the cost of safety in such a proportion is certainly not a good trade.

The Japanese have learned this lesson the hard way but I appreciate the way they have reacted to adversity every time it knocks their door.

It is time the world learns this lesson from them.

While there is still time.

RIP Steve Jobs – Lessons From the Inventor

Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011) - Source: The Apple Tribute

Woke up to the terrible news of the demise of Steve Jobs, arguably the most innovative and brilliant entrepreneur of our times. His works have been monumental in computer technology and probably he is greatly responsible in part for starting the revolution which has made it possible for you to read these lines right now.

While Steve Jobs made record revenue and profits for his organization, as anyone in his place should, he is an inspiration for much more than that. His impact on the modern day technology, from software and personal computers to tablet computers, from mobile phones to portable digital music players, is immense and hardly needs any mention because then the post will look more like an Apple ad. But his creations were mostly about design and utility. No nonsense.

That is one marketing lesson.

For a man who talked frequently about death, he certainly knew how to live and showed that to everyone else by example. I am deeply moved by his death and most of all, of his attitude towards it. It is hard to be strong when you see death coming your way. It is remarkable if you defy the fear of it and go on to live the way you love.

The following piece offers a great insight into his life.

The Spiritual Side of Steve Jobs

It is only fitting that Steve Jobs be allowed to complete this post himself, as his words will surely be remembered in history as great and inspirational. His philosophy was that we are here to put a dent in the universe. He has certainly put a dent in the history of human civilization. Advances that must be recorded for the generations to come.

The following is the text of his commencement address at Stanford University delivered on June 12, 2005, which can be found on the official Stanford University website here.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. 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.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

The text says it all. It is overwhelming, personal, emotional, engaging, strong and most of all, effective. It is being shared all over the internet today, in tributes and in news. It tells a remarkable story of a remarkable man and offers lessons in each phrase for anyone willing to take them.  It is never too late.

But here is the greatest lesson of all from the man.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”

                                            – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Thank you, Mr. Steve Jobs.

All the Lonely People….

Charlton Heston once said, “The internet is for the lonely people…”

The very first time when I read those words, I was astounded at the discernment of the old man.

In fact, I wonder if this tool, which the lonely people use to hide the saddest fact of their lives, is even creating more loneliness. The question to ask is whether those who were not lonely, have isolated themselves from their world or not due to the introduction of this new dimension in their lives.

I still strongly believe that many people prefer the old-fashioned ways to communicate than the modern technology such as internet and social networking, although they may not be as hip. The only benefit to technology in communication is that it can bridge physical distances. But what about emotional distances?

The best way to communicate is to speak face to face, or even more than that, if you know what I mean. And there is simply no substitute to the human touch, the cure of the human misery, depression and loneliness.

We are hiding behind our elaborate modes of communication.

We don’t reach out. Or feel too frightened to. Something that malfunctions our minds.

We should not complain about how miserable our lives are then.