Growing up and reflecting upon my years spent at Reidsville Elementary School in Reidsville, GA, one of my distinctive memories is walking into Anna Shuman’s Gifted Classroom and seeing assorted “Think Different” posters hanging around the room. Specifically, one with Jim Henson that you might recall.
Our school did not have Apple computers, strictly running Microsoft Windows 3.1. In fact, I was a little too knowledgeable, hacking into and crashing the school system server in 4th grade (on accident, of course).
But at home, we had an Apple II where I first played “The Oregon Trail” on an 8.5′ Floppy Disk. Beyond saving my family from dysentery, in those early years, I used our Mac to start imagining my future. Designing imaginary databases of people and creating assorted office materials, I imagined myself running a company, something that all of my friends and family knew about.
This evolved into something known as “The Kids Club,” and it was The Kids Club, not simply “a” kids club. For one of my elementary-aged birthdays, one of our family friends got me a brown briefcase filled with office materials that would help us run the organization.
As the club grew to double digits, we would organize a multi-day “summer conference” in addition to our regularly scheduled monthly meetings, all utilizing these databases created on that Apple II.
Soon, the Apple II was out-of-date and the company was fading (so I would learn later) fast without Steve Jobs at the helm. Our family upgraded to a Packard Bell with Microsoft Windows 95 on it, along with tons of software, including Spiderman Cartoon Maker, a program that first taught me how to tell simple visual stories.
There is a funny fact about filmmaking, the simple truth that your career is not only dependent upon your creative output, but also how well-known and organized your work is to a demanding public. If I had not spent all those early years learning how to run a fake business on an Apple II, I seriously doubt that I would be experiencing my nominal success today.
Like Steve Jobs, I came back to Apple. Visiting Goodwill in 1998, there was a used PowerPC with Mac OS 7 in the store across from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. It was fully functional, selling for only fifty dollars. After begging my parents for it, I had my very own computer again.
I’ve owned Mac products ever since, including an iMac, iBook, iPod Color, the original iPhone, three MacBook Pro’s, the iPhone 4, and an AppleTV.
I remember taking my iBook with me to High School, and everyone wanted to know what it was. No one else was using Mac products in my area at the time, it was still too niche. It was the first edition of Mac OS X, simultaneously running Mac OS 9 in Classic mode.
I used OS 9 for only one thing — a Hollywood Mogul game where you developed movies from conception to release. It was very basic, but it was my first taste of what it was like to run a production company.
Through all of these things, though I was an avid reader, the Mac first gave me a platform to imagine things for myself. I was able to look beyond my town of 150 people, to move past my K-8 school with 600 students, and create a world that was all my own.
Looking back at the posters of the “Think Different” campaign, while it was strictly advertising, it represented something more to the people that used Apple products; the innovation of the man who guided the process, Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs understood the importance of surrounding himself with people who could better execute his vision.
Running a creative company demands collaboration, and those that are most successful know it cannot be done alone. When he returned to the company in 1997, Apple was rotten to the core. A myriad of bad business decisions and misinformed creative choices had put the company in a rut for which many expected it never to recover.
But Steve had bigger plans, older and wiser than he once was leaving Apple in the 1980’s, innovating through his work at NeXT Computing and Pixar Animation Studios. I don’t have to tell you the story of Apple’s rise over the following decade. The products that my classmates once wondered about are now household names and industry standards.
Walking into that gifted classroom that day so many years ago, I was being tested for entry into our county’s Gifted program for exceptional and talented youth. Through the Galaxy Program, students were pulled out of regular classes once a week to study more comprehensively and creatively.
I didn’t pass the test that day, much to my own personal frustration and to that of my teachers, who knew I was bored in the regular classroom. Completely impatient, I rushed through the test so I could get on with my next task. But as you learn, life is not about being the fastest to the finish line, but being the most consistent.
Initially, Steve Jobs set out to change the world, only to find resistance. On his second attempt, he learned from his mistakes and went on to build the world’s greatest technology firm.
Throughout time, the earth has been given pioneers who have pushed the limits of what simple minds did not believe to be possible. When man was not given wings, the Wright Brothers believed we could fly. Dreaming of a connected world, Henry Ford made the automobile accessible for everyone. Looking to the stars, John F. Kennedy believed humans could walk on the moon.
In these times of political, social, and economic unrest, perhaps now more than ever, we are called to think differently about what is possible to make the world a better place.
Jim Henson’s The Muppet Movie remains to be one of my favorite films. In that picture, Kermit the Frog sings “Rainbow Connection.”
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.
In many ways, a man I never met helped me to start chasing those dreams. I hope it is beautiful on the other side.