Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Steve Jobs had a certain way with words.
In a 1994 video interview Jobs once famously quipped that anyone could change the world. He made it sound almost as easy as buying a hamburger:
"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact," Jobs explained, "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it."
Apart from enlightening us to the fact that life is, in fact, made up by people no smarter than you or I, he didn't exactly tell us how it's done.
You could say Jobs tried to lead by example, but it's not entirely clear whether or not Jobs himself knew the recipe for changing the world. He may have merely stumbled on success as so many with his esteem serendipitously do--keep in mind this was the same man who came up with the idea for the unsuccessful Apple Watch and who gave us the disastrous G4 cube.
No, Jobs never went on to explain how to change life at all, only that it was possible to change and once we realized that fact our lives would never be the same.
But life has very much been the same.
We may be using cooler and more empowering technologies today, but we're still vigilantly searching for the next Steve Jobs in spite of his wisdom.
So why aren't we instead living like Jobs, taking his words to heart and shaping our vision of the future? What exactly is preventing you from doing this? Why haven't you invented the next world-shattering technology or business yet?
The answer is the same as the reason why "innovation" and "creativity" have become such dirty words in the modern age: it's far too easy to misconstrue what any of this means.
Consider what images pop into your mind when you hear the word "innovation."
You're likely to imagine pictures of high-tech computers, shiny-white machinery, or a list of larger-than-life faces: Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Elon Musk, Larry Page, or Bill Gates.
These are all great innovators, without a doubt, but they are not at all an accurate representation of what innovation is actually about.
Worse still: how often do articles plague your Facebook or Twitter feeds, dot your email inbox, or cover the front page of your favorite websites with headlines about "how to hack innovation" or "one guaranteed way to be more creative"?
Innovation isn't any of these things, and it doesn't work the ways we're often told it does.
We are repeatedly given false promises of what it means to innovate: overnight success, global influence and change, a simple solution to some of the most daunting problems.
The problem is that most innovations aren't big, and the majority of people on this planet don't fit the stereotypes behind them. This is particularly true if you're not a white male living in the United States.
In reality, innovation is a long, arduous, and often invisible process to improve existing systems. One that requires diligent effort, risk-taking, and some level of serendipity. It's not romantic to say it, but it's true: innovation is work.
The story of Steve Jobs is not one of a genius inventor who went from being a kid in a garage in Palo Alto to global visionary in a few leaps. Steve Jobs' story is one of a man who worked hard, made a lot of big bets, made a few mistakes along the way, and was fortunate enough to capture opportunities when they came across his path. The same story arch follows those we typically look to for lessons on innovation: some level of naivety, the life of a novice, years of hard work and small victories, then (if they're lucky) a spotlight in the media.
For every story about how Steve Jobs or Elon Musk have pushed boundaries and changed the world, there are a thousand other stories of smaller, quieter successes.
For example: William Kamkwamba taught himself to build a windmill power his home by showing up at the library every single day and reading about turbines. Eesha Khare came up with a potential super-capacitor which could theoretically charge phones and other devices in a matter of seconds.
We'd be remiss to not also mention some of history's greatest innovators whose names you may not be so familiar with. Like Emmy Noether, who led breakthroughs in physics and abstract algebra and who Albert Einstein once called "the most significant creative mathematical genius." Claude Shannon added binary code to circuit designs to lay the foundation for storing and transmitting data, what continues to run on our smart phones, computers, and televisions. And Clair Cameron Patterson is attributed with developing a way of calculating the age of the Earth, did you have any idea?
Yet these stories aren't as popular to share as those of Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. Why? Because they don't fit into the story of the lone, white, male genius which is so prominent in Western culture. We often prefer the romantic version of innovation, which promises high levels of genius and rewards over the more accurate depiction of small steps and only small samplings of recognition.
As a result, your beliefs around what it means to innovate (who can do it and how it's done) have been skewed. Now when you read articles of how to hack innovation or how to be more creative overnight, you're met with false promises and disappointment.
The reality is that creativity and innovation are going to require you to work for them. Not a lot of necessarily hard work, but work nonetheless, and a lot of it over a span of time, toward a specific set goal.
To quote Craig Lambert, writer and editor for Harvard Magazine, from his book Mind Over Water:
"Success is no big thing: it is every little thing, achieved on a daily basis."