A colleague of Steve Jobs once said that Steve had a “reality distortion field.” He had the ability to see promise and possibility. What a gift. There have been books upon books and articles upon articles about whether or not Steve used that gift for good or whether he used it for Steve. I’m not sure. There are two sides to the reality distortion field. The positive is that it demonstrates how Steve Jobs bent reality in such a way that a difficult or impossible task was made to appear possible, or even easy. The flip side is that the distortion field was Steve Jobs’ darker side. Many considered him so driven that he would lie, pester, cheat or do whatever it took to succeed.
How far can your reality stretch, if that’s what it takes to achieve a goal you’ve set for yourself? Here are six things to help you find out…
First, practice questioning your dearest beliefs.
Upon returning to Apple in 1997, Steve promptly dumped the majority of the products Apple was producing. Then, he did the unthinkable. He called Bill Gates. Bill was co-founder of Microsoft, and the principle competition of Apple for much of its history. If the history book you’re reading was written in 1996, it would say that the Microsoft clones had won the war.
Instead, Steve reached out to Bill and put a Microsoft Office software for Apple on the fast track. While Apple had built its identity on being different, Steve’s reality distortion field showed him that without a competitive product in the business world, Apple had no chance. Where others saw giving up a long held belief, Steve saw a path to viability for a dying company.
Second, talk to people outside your field of expertise.
Some of the best ideas come from places that, on the surface, appear to have nothing in common. Do you remember your first cell phone? Mine was one of those blue Nokia phones that had the tiny screen and small round buttons. I remember my earliest text messages required me to hit the 2 button three times to get the letter C. Remember that?
When Steve began building Apple back to prominence, he saw the growing cell phone market, a growing portable computer market, and a growing digital music industry. The result? An iPod and iPhone.
Answers and opportunities await those who look outside their field of expertise.
Next, surround yourself with people who disagree with you.
Gotta say that Steve Jobs was really hard on people who disagreed with him. Many of them left Apple in a huff, tossing verbal hand grenades over the wall as they left. Steve’s reality distortion field was something of a litmus test. While you and I don’t want people who always agree with us in every situation, we can learn a great deal from those who disagree with us.
I’d like to think that Steve was wise enough to learn from the departures of smart people, if not from their opinions about his ideas. We can learn a great deal from those who disagree with us. Even more than this, a strong dream is polarizing. It will separate those who “like” you from those who believe in you. Even those who didn’t truly believe in us have something to say to us.
Then, take a hard look at the fine print of your dreams.
Steve died early. He died because he didn’t take care of himself. An early death was written in the fine print of someone whose dreams were always huge and who drove himself and drove others to massive business success came.
Here’s some of the conditions you may find in the fine print of your dream. You will find a condition to take care of yourself physically while you push yourself hard. You will find a condition that you will be tempted to spend less time with those you love. You will find a condition that success can have a negative effect on your spiritually if you don’t spend time in silence and prayer and practice being OK if you don’t get exactly what you dreamed about.
Are there some conditions in your dream that are too costly to pay, too much to overcome? Only you can answer that question.
Fourth, do something crazy.
When Steve Jobs left Apple in 1993, he started an animation studio. We know that studio today as Pixar, a production company that has produced great movies like Monsters Inc, Big Hero 6, Toy Story, and Inside Out. Steve had nearly no experience in animation beyond the rudimentary beginnings in the Apple computers. He did something crazy, and in the process, he discovered a technology that shapes who we are today.
Crazy doesn’t have to be dangerous. But it does need to be something you’ve never done. It may be traveling somewhere you’ve never been or skydiving. Whatever it may be, it needs to be totally out of character for you. You must find out just how much stretch there is in your reality distortion field.
Fifth, practice communicating.
Your dream will only go as far as those who come with you. You cannot do it alone. You and I are products of both our decisions as well as our circumstances. Those circumstances include the people we choose to surround ourselves with, and the people we invite to join us on the journey. If we can’t share the reality that we’ve distorted around us with others, then we’ll find ourselves a bit too much like Steve Jobs—a loner outside the office who struggled to connect with people. Too often, people were a necessity and burden to him.
Last, see the reality distortion field as a habit to get into and a tool to be used.
We can trick the brain into seeing something that isn’t there. That is a wonderful powerful dizzying ability of the human brain. Your dream may be crazy out there. It may be unimaginable to the people closest to you. But by regularly practicing a reality distortion field through exercises like the four I’ve mentioned today, you can change the way you see the world.
Steve’s reality distortion field came so naturally to him that I doubt he knew how and when to turn it on and off again. Maybe I underestimate him, but I don’t want you to overestimate yourself. The ability to turn off your reality distortion field and get inside the head of someone who doesn’t share that perspective is a gift. Treat this as a skill to be learned and a tool to be used wisely.