Posted on 23 September 2011.
In a few years from now, your kids and grandkids will ask you what it was like to be alive when Steve Jobs was the CEO of Apple (AAPL). They will say: “Jobs was the best CEO in business. What was he like? what did you learn from him?”
What will your answer be?
It’s human nature to overlook the importance of the here and now. Those who are great and live among us seem more normal because they’re breathing the same air that we are.
But, make no mistake, once Steve Jobs is no longer with us, there will be an outpouring of emotion. The tributes will be endless. And there will be collective regret that we weren’t more awake, paying attention, while he was with us.
The wisdom he shared with us at every major speech, or on an earnings call, or in a casual chat put up on YouTube will seem 10 times wiser because he’s no longer with us.
So, let’s pause today and try to remind ourselves of some lessons Steve Jobs has taught us all — if we’ve been willing to pay attention:
1. The most enduring innovations marry art and science – Steve has always pointed out that the biggest difference between Apple and all the other computer (and post-PC) companies through history is that Apple always tried to marry art and science. Jobs pointed out the original team working on the Mac had backgrounds in anthropology, art, history, and poetry. That’s always been important in making Apple’s products stand out. It’s the difference between the iPad and every other tablet computer that came before it or since. It is the look and feel of a product. It is its soul. But it is such a difficult thing for computer scientists or engineers to see that importance, so any company must have a leader that sees that importance.
2. To create the future, you can’t do it through focus groups – there is a school of thought in management theory that — if you’re in the consumer-facing space building products and services — you’ve got to listen to your customer. Steve Jobs was one of the first businessmen to say that was a waste of time. The customers today don’t always know what they want, especially if it’s something they’ve never seen, heard, or touched before. When it became clear that Apple would come out with a tablet, many were skeptical. When people heard the name (iPad), it was a joke in the Twitter-sphere for a day. But when people held one, and used it, it became a ‘must have.’ They didn’t know how they’d previously lived without one. It became the fastest growing Apple product in its history. Jobs (and the Apple team) trusted himself more than others. Picasso and great artists have done that for centuries. Jobs was the first in business.
3. Never fear failure – Jobs was fired by the successor he picked. It was one of the most public embarrassments of the last 30 years in business. Yet, he didn’t become a venture capitalist never to be heard from again. He didn’t start a production company and do a lot of lunches. He picked himself up and got back to work following his passion. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he only had a few weeks to live. As Samuel Johnson said, there’s nothing like your impending death to focus the mind. From Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. and yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. and that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. it is Life’s change agent. it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
4. you can’t connect the dots forward – only backward – this is another gem from the 2005 Stanford speech. The idea behind the concept is that, as much as we try to plan our lives ahead in advance, there’s always something that’s completely unpredictable about life. What seems like bitter anguish and defeat in the moment — getting dumped by a girlfriend, not getting that job at McKinsey, “wasting” 4 years of your life on a start-up that didn’t pan out as you wanted — can turn out to sow the seeds of your unimaginable success years from now. You can’t be too attached to how you think your life is supposed to work out and instead trust that all the dots will be connected in the future. This is all part of the plan.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. you have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. this approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
5. Listen to that voice in the back of your head that tells you if you’re on the right track or not – most of us don’t hear a voice inside our heads. We’ve simply decided that we’re going to work in finance or be a doctor because that’s what our parents told us we should do or because we wanted to make a lot of money. When we consciously or unconsciously make that decision, we snuff out that little voice in our head. From then on, most of us put it on automatic pilot. We mail it in. You have met these people. They’re nice people. But they’re not changing the world. Jobs has always been a restless soul. A man in a hurry. A man with a plan. His plan isn’t for everyone. It was his plan. He wanted to build computers. Some people have a voice that tells them to fight for democracy. Some have one that tells them to become an expert in miniature spoons. When Jobs first saw an example of a Graphical User Interface — a GUI — he knew this was the future of computing and that he had to create it. That became the Macintosh. Whatever your voice is telling you, you would be smart to listen to it. Even if it tells you to quit your job, or move to China, or leave your partner.