All week, impromptu memorials have been popping up at Apple stores throughout America to commemorate the man who gave Apple life, Steve Jobs. Yesterday afternoon I witnessed one of these makeshift monuments at the location on Prince Street in Manhattan's SoHo. Post-it notes were lined up along the windows and apples with one symbolic bite taken out of them crowded the sidewalk.
Only a few blocks later, I bumped into streams of people from the much-talked-about “Occupy Wall Street” movement making their way up West Broadway from their weeks-long perch in lower Manhattan towards Washington Square Park.
While scenes like these are common in New York City, I was struck by the contradictions in these two very emotional expressions of loss and anxiety taking place just a few blocks away from each other: one memorializes a great entrepreneur who received billions in compensation for his successes and the other vilifies wealth creators, calling them the “1%” while launching a rhetorical class war.
It reminded me of those thought-provoking posters that popped up all over New York when I was in college which had the provocative headline, “How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?”. Designed, printed and tacked up by a graphic designer named Peter Cohen, the posters directed viewers to call a local homeless agency in order to help address conflicts regarding wealth and poverty in society.
Steve Jobs was notoriously hard-headed, obsessive and demanding of his employees but his methods led to the development of products that millions of people loved and turned Apple into the world’s most valuable company. This same drive and grit can be found in most of the entrepreneurs who run much smaller enterprises, from restaurants to small factories. And while not every successful entrepreneur is a billionaire, many of these individuals have created financial security for themselves and their families in spite of growing economic headwinds.
It’s true that wealth stratification is a problem in the U.S. It’s also true that this condition is corrosive to the social fabric of our country. But I don’t agree that it's all Washington or Wall Street’s fault. There are things we can do as individuals to create greater financial security for ourselves. For example, each of us can study great entrepreneurs and emulate the habits that made them successful.
In our book, The Influence of Affluence, my co-author and I identified consistent behaviors that could be found in the seven million “self-made” millionaire households we studied. Two of them were:
Steve Jobs believed deeply in the potential of the individual and he echoed our findings in his parting words played on the air countless times since his death: “stay hungry” and “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”
If you find yourself standing outside of an Apple Store in the next few days, you may also discover some of the answers to the questions raised by “Occupy Wall Street.” Just look where Peter Cohen’s poster told us to look twenty years earlier. Those apples underfoot on the sidewalk—left in Steve Jobs’ memory—remind us that there’s no greater force for social change than the individual who pursues success on his or her own terms.