Of course, that isn’t true. I never got to meet Steve Jobs at all.
But I had a question nagging me. I kept thinking would Apple be the incredible success it is today if Steve Jobs had been a Nigerian?
It was a Saturday morning and one of those Saturdays I didn’t want to do anything – even though there were millions of things to do. The laundry basket was full and running over, the car was filthy and even my sleeping space looked like the surviving machinery in a train wreck.
But I didn’t want to do anything.
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So I washed (myself, of course), jumped out of the house, took a bus to the nearest bus stop, and got on a BRT bus. I was going sight-seeing. At the time I got on that bus, work was the last thing on my mind. I just wanted to sit in a moving vehicle, watch the unchanging Ikorodu road landscape go by, eat Gala, and yoghurt.
I particularly looked forward to the snacking part.
But I got on the bus, chose a window seat on the right of the bus, and let my gaze wander. And who would I see seated on the extreme left of my row but great Steve Jobs.
I was shocked, to say the least. Let me say this, I don’t particularly like Apple products; I resent their exclusive nature. But I respect their work and there was the man himself.
He didn’t look any different from what I knew: same black turtle neck, same glasses, same jeans, and sneakers. The only incongruous note was the steaming pipe stuck in the left corner of his mouth.
As far as I know, Steve Jobs never smoked while he was alive – at least not tobacco.
He was preoccupied with reading…not from an iPad, like one would expect, but from a newspaper.
This is the right opportunity, I had to talk to him.
I braced myself to jump across the aisle and into the unoccupied seat beside him, but at that moment some guy sat right there. I stayed in my seat, swearing blue murder, biting my knuckles, and thinking about what I would do to the guy.
The bus started to move – and just then, the man who had taken the seat jumped up and scrambled off the bus. I wasn’t too concerned about why. I just hurried and took his place.
“Hi, Steve,” I said, breathing slightly hard. After some seconds of silence, I looked over to his seat. He was still there, still reading his newspaper. I said again; slightly louder, “Hi, Steve!”
He looked up and saw me with a curious look settled on his face. Curiosity, not fear or mistrust. “Do I know you?” he asked, quite politely too.
I shook my head. “No, but I know you and that’s all that matters. Can we talk for a bit? I’ve been interested to know what motivates you and especially if you think you could have made it if you were from here.”
He folded the newspaper daintily, crossed his legs, and stuck out his hand. “That is the right question.” He looked me in the eye as he shook my hand. “Are you an entrepreneur?”
I shook my head again. “No – I’m a creator.”
He smiled. “What’s the difference?” And then opened the newspaper and continued to read.
By now, the bus was at its first stop – Ojota.
I was wondering whether to interrupt him again, whether to repeat the question when he suddenly took the pipe out of his mouth and gestured with it. “See that man over there?”
I looked to where he was pointing and saw someone – a man bent over a pile of books. “Yes, I see him.”
“Is that all he does for a living?” Steve asked.
“I really cannot tell, but he’s there throughout the day. He comes before 10 am and leaves around 5 or 6 in the evening.”
“Is he a family man?”
“I wouldn’t know, Steve Jobs. I don’t know him.” I was a bit brash in my response.
The man looked at me and grinned. “You better,” he said. “There’s so much you can learn from him – and I just made him a customer. You read a lot, yes?”
“Buy books. Readers are smart people.” Steve Jobs paused. “That man is an example of one of the most fascinating things about Nigerians.
Perseverance. You persevere – almost to the point of indifference. That is so necessary for success.”
His eyes found my face. “You know I was once forced to resign from Apple, right?”
I said I knew the story.
“For a while, I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Confused, hurt, broken – I had to start all over again. But I persevered – and out of that darkest time of my life came the most light.
“I was devastated, as you can imagine. Still, I loved what I’d built so I didn’t stop.” He knocked the ash from his pipe and shoved it back in his mouth. “Let your work reflect what you care about. Be known for something – and stand by it. It’s very unlikely you would be the only one doing what you do, but how you do that thing depends wholly on you. Be known for something.”
He paused, watching me order a Gala and yoghurt, and I was amazed when he took a yoghurt for himself. “I enjoy things like this nowadays,” he said slowly waving the pipe. “Nothing matters now. I’m dead.
“You like women, I presume?”
“Does that one look good to you?” He waved at a slender lady standing at the bus stop, phone to her ear as we sped past. She was smiling and playing with her hair, looking quite good in a blue blouse and white pants.
“You like what she’s wearing?”
I said I did – adding that the colors flattered her complexion.
“You should find her. She would totally make you happy.”
I was intrigued in spite of myself. “How would you know that?”
He smiled. “It’s what you noticed about her in the brief moment you spent. That’s what jumped out to you – her color combination. Which means you’re slightly artistic; which means she knows what to wear. Design is not how it looks, it’s how it works. Do you realize you didn’t exactly notice her face or body?”
I nodded in agreement.
“That’s right,” he chuckled. “Look, our phones are pretty but that’s not why people buy them. They buy the functionality, and in a country such as yours, the exclusivity of our stuff. If people just wanted pretty, they have millions of other options.
“You look at the hundreds of people selling all sorts of things in all sorts of places around you, you’ll probably say they do those things because they don’t have options – which is true in a lot of cases – but in the midst of that, you’ll find people – like that man who sells books – who sells them because they actually love what they sell. That’s the only way to do great stuff. You have to love what you do because it’s a huge part of your life.”
He exhaled noisily – and then turned to me. “Why do you think Nigeria is the way it is – the way it has been for a while?
I said it had to do with the leadership and our mentality – the fact that pretty much the same people have been leading us since independence.
“Innovation,” he said. “That’s one of the things that separate a leader from a follower. Are you doing things the way they’ve always been done – or are you starting something new? Improving on an old thing? Innovate and you’ll be great.” Folding the newspaper, he got up. “Now do you think Apple would have been a hit in Nigeria?”
He walked off the bus while it was still moving.
I came to myself sitting in a BRT bus, on the right side looking out the window.
Of course, I hadn’t just had a conversation with Steve Jobs. But the question remains; would Apple be the incredible success it is today if Steve Jobs had been a Nigerian?
I think the answer’s pretty obvious too.
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