Wednesday, November 23, 2011


There have been many retrospectives on the life and times of Steve Jobs. The impact on society of Steve, and his company, Apple, has been significant. He transformed several entire industries: computing, desktop publishing, music, phones, tablets. He even made the commercial the best part of the Super Bowl, with his blockbuster ad in 1984. Really, Steve had different ideas about how we communicate. He took the value of simplicity to extremes, even in his annual lectures to the Apple faithful. It is here where those of us who are on stage (as teachers of musicians), can learn something. Listen to Penn Jillette, a master magician and a transformative communicator in his own right, reminisce about what he saw in Steve. In this article from Wired magazine (December, 2011) you might find some ideas to help you be a masterful, surprising teacher, like Steve, Penn, or better yet, like Jesus.

"Steve Jobs is famous for his keynotes. And of course he was wonderful when he unveiled the iCloud and the iPad2 earlier this year. But by then, he was already 'Steve Jobs.' At some point, when the Rolling Stones walk onstage, people cheer. But in 1984, he still had to earn it. And he did it with pure showbiz.

"Even then, in that first keynote when he introduced the Mac, Steve Jobs knew the importance of keeping secrets and the element of surprise. Everybody thinks they outgrow that. The file industry has decided that surprise doesn't matter at all - they'll show you the "Luke, I'm your father" moment in the trailer. But as a magician, I think about the use of secrets and surprise all the time. It's astonishing how well they work. What I find so fascinating in that, while Jobs was sophisticated and the ideas he was selling were deeply intellectual, he was using tactics that play right into our monkey brains.

"He structured this announcement so well. He's got something in a bag. And the word bag is funny, it's humble. It is also not a cliche'. Box would have been cliche'. Holding it in my hand would have been a cliche'. But bag makes it so personal and honest and childlike. And then he takes the computer out of the bag and it speaks - and it refers to Jobs as its father, which anthropomorphizes it and makes it cute and gentle.

"If you gave that routine to any other CEO, they would say, "I need 30 more jokes in there." But Jobs had the confidence not to do that. When (Penn's partner) Tell and I first played off-Broadway, it was wonderful to go onstage and start our show kind of slowly and easily, knowing that in 50 minutes the audience was going to like us. And Jobs was the same way that day in 1984. He didn't come in clapping his hands and going, 'Whoa whoa whoa, have we got something for you!' He knew that the way to do it is nice and easy and slow.

"Dai Vernon, who revolutionized magic in the 20th Century, said that onstage, movements should be natural. That's something that very few people in magic understand and very few public speakers understand. But Jobs followed that completely. There's nothing about the way he moves that you wouldn't do in a living room. Watch the way he pulls the disk out of his pocket and slides it into the front of the Mac. It's not too slight. He slides it in like bread into a toaster.

"So: He didn't do too much buildup. He let the surprise sell itself. He did just a few jokes and did them very well. And then he the stage. You could structure a 15-minute magic show exactly the same way."

...Or a 30-minute sermon.