Connect the dots

Everything is inevitable in retrospect. (Agree?) Also, 7 other things.

I have one more thing to say this week about the late Steve Jobs, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of his passing, mostly because I hope it will prompt a really good comments section.

I’ve been working on a separate article for Inc.com about him that will run this weekend. I’ll link to it here on Monday. Today’s newsletter sort of fell out of my research and thinking about that article, and onto the rhetorical floor.

It goes like this. Jobs never graduated from college, but he did attend Reed College in Oregon; he only lasted a short while before dropping out in 1972.

However, instead of heading home after he was no longer officially enrolled, he stuck around for another 18 months. He slept on friends’ floors, returned Coke bottles for the deposits to get some money, and “dropped in” on classes that interested him.

One of those classes was calligraphy. As Jobs explained in the same Stanford speech I talked about earlier this week, it wound up having a profound affect on him:

I learned about serif and sans 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 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. …

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. …

[Y]ou can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.

I feel like we all have stories like this, don’t we? So, as a comment thread for this weekend, can I ask you to connect the dots looking backward?

What’s your equivalent of studying calligraphy? It could be a person you met, or something you studied, or an experience, or an unexpected opportunity. What did you explore simply because it was interesting and you felt called to—with no expectation of payoff—that in retrospect, led to a payoff?

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