The Dao of Steve Wozniak

Legendary Apple developer Steve Wozniak wisely adopted elements of Daoism. You should too.

Plenty has been written about the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. On one hand, Jobs was a visionary who brought Apple unparalleled success. However, he was also an exacting taskmaster who demanded perfection and sometimes verged towards meanness. There are plenty of stories about what Jobs’ intensity wrought in the workplace, although it’s hard to argue considering the results. When Jobs passed away in 2011, Apple had become the most valuable company in the world.

There’s a common belief that it’s the fierce taskmasters who get the results. The fiery team captain, the abrasive general and the aggressive CEO are all common archetypes of successful people. However, Apple’s achievements aren’t solely because of Jobs’ demanding nature. On the other side of the intensity scale is co-founder and engineer Steve Wozniak. The “other” Steve was instrumental in bringing success to Apple. Wozniak is also credited for bringing personal computers to the mainstream at a time when they were considered niche devices.

“The Woz” couldn’t be more different to Jobs. This gentle, unassuming man is something of a rarity in management. He brought a sense of fun to even the most stressful situations. In addition to his incredible problem-solving skills, Wozniak embodies—whether intentionally or not—the tenants of Daoism. This ancient Chinese philosophy, also spelled as Taoism, emphasizes the importance of rolling with the punches and practicing non-action.

This 2,000-year-old philosophy holds just as much relevance for monks studying in temples as it does engineers at a tech company.

Daoism Explained

While the “non-action” of Daoism sounds like something that would get you fired for laziness, it’s actually a useful tool for anyone dealing with high-pressure situations. This chief tenant of Daoism states extols the virtue of having our actions in alignment with outside factors. This adaptability helps Daoists respond to situations with ease and confidence.

Dao means “the way,” yet the ancient philosophers who promulgated this belief stressed that the Dao is indefinable.

According to one sage, this the ideal Daoist “[acts] effortlessly and spontaneously as one with dao and in so doing, they ‘virtue’ without deliberation or volitional challenge. In this respect, they are like newborn infants, who move naturally, without planning and reliance on the structures given to them by culture and society.”

This doesn’t mean that a Daoist lives an unstructured and unfocused life. Instead, Daoism emphases the importance of going with the flow and adapting to new situations in a positive way.

Daoism can be adopted by anyone, but it’s easy to see why it’s appealing to anyone dealing with pressure-filled lives. Working under Jobs, as many have said, definitely counted as a high-pressure situation.

Daoism and the Computer

Jobs’ obsession with austere aesthetics was often a challenge, as the need for a certain look had to be balanced by the inner workings of a product.

In the mid-70s when Apple launched, personal computers were rare. The high costs coupled with a perceived lack of demand hindered what’s now a household item. Wozniak’s work on the Apple I and Apple II are legendary, as these computers helped usher in a new age.

Jobs was the business person behind Apple, yet he didn’t know the technology. Wozniak often had to use all his acumen to bend the tech and get it to work in line with Jobs’ edicts – no screws on the lower half of the computer, for example, an incident which turned out to be a real brainteaser. Wozniak enjoyed, in his own words, working like “a mad scientist.” In that world, he was free to experiment and react based on the outcome of each test. Like a Daoist, Wozniak would be accepting of what the technology offered.

However, he also pushed back when needed. Flare-ups between Jobs and Wozniak weren’t uncommon; Wozniak later pursued his interests outside of Apple.

Putting It Into Practice

Daoism is both a philosophy and a religion, with many interpretations and diverging schools of thought. The Dao is intentionally vague and amorphous, which makes it challenging to get a basic understanding. However, there are some easily adoptable elements of Daoism that help anyone trying to improve a stressful situation.

Meditate: Many religions incorporate some sort of meditation into their teachings. Daoism is no different. Meditation techniques are varied, but Daoists generally seek to find quiet, stillness and calm. To start to achieve this, try meditating for just several minutes a time. Focus on breathing and clearing out thoughts.

Mute Your Reaction: Daoism encourages you to go with the flow. That doesn’t necessarily mean being passive. Rather, it’s being thoughtful in your responses. Keeping a cool head and maintaining a sense of understanding is desirable over losing one’s cool.

As one story goes, Confucius saw life as sour and in need of rules. Buddha saw life as bitter and full of suffering. Lao Tzu, the father of Daoism, saw life as fundamentally good in its present condition.

Think: Daoism is deliberately vague and indefinable. As such, it encourages reflection and deep thought. Slowing things down and thinking about the nature of yourself and the world around you can be quite beneficial. After all, adopting such a good-natured and open-minded mindset helped Wozniak achieve incredible things despite working with a challenging business partner.
Or, as Wozniak and countless surfers of Venice Beach might choose to phrase it: take life one day at a time, ride the wave, and don’t flail about.

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