Surprised, I found myself wiping away tears at times this week while I read Phil Knight's absorbing entrepreneurship memoir, Shoe Dog. Over the weekend, I went to see LaLa Land, and I found myself reflecting, wistful, grateful. Last week, I re-watched Steve Jobs's commencement speech, nodding in agreement.
There are relevant takeaways from each, but what resonated most for me was how little details signal profound reverberations years later. For instance, Knight told the story of one of the key figures in the rise of Nike who caught small marine life in a pneumatic suction tube. The tube is not mentioned again, but I couldn't help but think that this was the inspiration for the shoe tubes at Nike Stores decades later. In fact, Knight is clear throughout the tale of Nike's glacial rise: the little moments, happenstances, coincidences, collisions ALL accumulate and contribute to the "end product," which is a misnomer, because, to take a Nike slogan, "there is no finish line."
LaLa Land, meanwhile, plays with our expectations of Hollywood musicals, gender roles, stereotypes, creativity, American optimism, art itself, and draws on the familiar to create something altogether fresh. And, here, too, little things: a car horn, a repeated musical hook, become so much more.
I was reminded of my short time Los Angeles, just a year out of college, and I planned to be a movie writer/director. A famous actor had a charity, and the Executive Director of the charity offered me a job to be her right-hand man. But my girlfriend at the time, my future wife, did not want to live in LA and asked where else I could do film. "New York," I said. And I did, and I didn't look back. And I am the accumulation of all that came before Los Angeles and all that has come since in New York. And it does no good imagining "What if?" The Butterfly Effect: surely I would not be where I am if we stayed in LA. Or if--shudder to think--I stayed, and we broke up. I remember telling the Executive Director, "I care more about my life than my livelihood. And I see my life with my girlfriend." Smart move.
As for Jobs, I can't say that I admired him during his life--I have always thought Bill Gates deserved more admiration--but I loved his commencement speech. Especially when he talked about learning calligraphy at Reed College. In the 2nd grade, my teacher taught us calligraphy, and I can't help but think my love of typefaces and elegant handwriting and permanent pens and India ink trace all the way back to my luck in landing in a calligraphy class as a 7 year old. This is what I mean about being an accumulation. Jobs said: "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. And we designed it all into the Mac."
We never stop becoming as long as we live. Whether or not we are aware of the accumulation.