A Reality Distortion Field for 2012

Originally published in Utah Business.

I love the start of a new year. My mood turns decidedly positive as my Christmas lights are taken down, cards are recycled and tree is turned into compost. I begin the mental shift from ending a year to beginning a year, and everything gets better for me. It’s a time for reflection, refinement and renewal, and I soak it in like a warm sun on a winter day.

Much of my inspiration for a new year comes from reading great books, and I found a winner in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Isaacson tells the story of Jobs’ inventiveness, creativity, intensity and flaws. There is much to learn.

Jobs was driven to “make a dent in the universe,” as he called it, and that’s exactly what he did. By the time he died on October 5, 2011, he revolutionized six industries—personal computing, digital publishing, animated movies, music, phones and tablet computing. His economic legacy in my lifetime is without peer; we would all do well to replicate his magic, in our own personal way.

Part of this magic came from what Isaacson describes as a “reality distortion field,” a term drawn from Star Trek to describe the ability of aliens to create a new world through sheer mental force. Jobs possessed and shared an ability to bend any reality to serve the purposes of his profound ideas. Expressed through his charisma, willpower, rhetoric and actions, Jobs willfully defied reality in order to invent the future he thought was best—a mouse, no cursor keys, a graphical user interface, and products like the iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad and so on.

As we begin 2012, let’s take the time to imagine the power of a reality distortion field. We can make Utah not what it is, but what it should be. I’m fond of the saying that the future is not a gift, but an achievement … Steve Jobs is a modern day example of this truism. We have the power to achieve greatness for our communities and ourselves.

Just think of what would become of our state if we put a good old reality distortion field to work.

  • We could end discrimination in all of its forms: age, gender, race/ethnicity, socio-economic, sexual preference, faith and others. The Utah I see should be an example to the world of human compassion and tolerance.
  • We could take a giant step forward to improve our air quality. I view this as a collaborative effort of people of good will committed to the health of our community. Lawsuits are not the answer.
  • We could make a generational sacrifice for public and higher education in Utah. We need to innovate and invest. Any proposal focusing on just one side of this equation denies our children the skills they need to compete in a global economy.
  • We could complement our incredible natural beauty by beautifying our manmade surroundings. Let’s start with better landscaping of our freeways, highways and major streets.
  • We could take civic engagement to new levels by attending political caucus meetings in March, allowing same-day voter registration, and voting. Utah’s voter participation in general election years is now below the national average, a trend that is completely unacceptable.
  • Finally, we could unify as Utahns to be a welcoming and friendly state. Incivility has no place here. Our aspirations for human development extend to all people.

This is an incomplete list. I’m sure you have your own to add. The point is Steve Jobs showed us how to use our vision of what should be to make it that way. In the spirit of Jobs and his remarkable legacy, let’s imagine the 2012 we aspire to achieve and then make it happen.