Tag Archives: Apple

“Just 3 Stories … No Big Deal” – Taking a Deeper Look at Steve Jobs’ Advice in His 2005 Stanford Address

The Hidden Message in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford AddressIn 2005, Steve Jobs spoke to the graduating class at Stanford University, and told three main stories about his life and work. (Click here to view the 2005 Stanford Address.)  His talk has inspired many. But were there hidden messages in it? Was there deeper wisdom than most of us think?  Absolutely.  Let’s see if you agree.

But first, why this is so urgent and important? It’s because millions of people from career-changers to career-starters have been fed the line, ‘just follow your passion.’ Aside from that advice being wildly ambiguous, it’s often dangerous and misleading.

And although many people have attributed the line to Steve Jobs and his 2005 talk, the truth is Jobs himself never said the words. Not. Even. Once.

There are in fact deeper messages Steve Jobs was trying to tell us, and your career will likely only be more successful if you absorb these deeper messages.

A first clue about the deeper message is that Jobs says at the outset that he’s going to share his secrets in the shape of three stories: “Today, I want to tell you 3 stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just 3 stories.” [at 0:47 in the talk]

Actually, giving us three stories was a big deal. Jobs believed almost religiously in the rule of 3’s – the principle from rhetoric that you should communicate something in three parts. (Remember his launch of the iPhone? He said he was about to announce “three revolutionary products … an MP3 player, a phone, and an internet communicator …”. The magician’s surprise turned out to be that the three things were all in one device, the new iPhones.)

Story 1 = Passion 1: A Passion for Your Area and Learning It Deeply

On the surface, Jobs first story is about how he dropped out of Reed College. But if you dig deeper, it’s really about how he allowed his curiosity to draw him to certain subjects, and how he developed from his early days the habit of deep learning that lasted a lifetime:

“I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting. [2:56] … I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example … . [3:21] I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif … about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful … artistically subtle … and I found it fascinating.” [3:49] [emphasis in bold added]

Notice that Jobs says he was following his “curiosity,” not ‘following his passion.’ There is a difference. Curiosity is very specific.

In other words, he went to classes to learn, not just cram for exams and get an A. The course on calligraphy was not just about fonts, it was about design, an area that came to dominate Jobs’ life – and lead him to many breakthroughs.

The words Jobs uses are a test for whether you have developed this same passion: interesting, curiosity, intuition, learn, beautiful, fascinating. Do you use words like these when you describe the area you’re in?

Key Message from Story 1: the first passion you need is a passion for the area you’re in, and a genuine desire to keep learning it.

Story 2 = Passion 2:  A Passion for the Processes in Your Area … especially the Collaborating and Learning from Failure

In all work, there is a process – or more accurately, processes.  Story 2, with all due respect, is often misquoted. The first key lesson in the story is in the first two lines:

“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us … .” [5:42] [emphasis added]

The lesson is that he developed a passion and skill for collaborating. And not just collaborating in an average way. Jobs developed – from the age of 20 – a passion and habit for collaborating closely with highly talented people, experts who often had far more expertise than he did. That takes courage and confidence.

It’s that part of the process that Jobs continued to love and engage in throughout the rest of his career: he collaborated with all kinds of highly talented people, from the animators at Pixar to the designers at IDEO to his own Apple designers and programmers.

A further implicit message in this story is also found in that first quote: the better you get at what you do, the more you tend to have a passion for it.  It’s a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle).  Some psychologists call it a ‘cycle of accelerated returns.’  Others call it the 10-year rule, the idea that it usually takes about 10 years, through deliberate practice, to become really expert in a field.  Notice how Jobs’ and Apple’s first major success occurred after 10 years of collaborating:

“We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with 4,000 employees.” [5:50] [emphasis added]

The next part of Story 2 tells how Jobs came to value a part of the process you’ll  find in any field, especially today: learning from mistakes or failure. It’s the story of his 1985 dismissal from Apple:

“But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. [6:57] … And so I decided to start over. … it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” [7:11] [emphasis added]

To illustrate, then, the real message in this second story, consider what happens when someone doesn’t grasp the lesson. Take for example the Yoga aficionado who decides to ‘just follow her passion’ and open her own Yoga studio. If she doesn’t have or at least develop a basic passion for the process (finding clients, finding a partner, collaborating, doing the admin, doing the marketing, renting the studio, handling the finances, etc. etc.), it’s a sure bet she’ll struggle, if not fail.

Key Message from Story 2: you need passion for the process that makes up the work you do – and, in particular, collaborating and learning from failure.

Story 3 = Passion 3: A Passion for What Gives You Meaning, a Sense of Purpose or Progress and How You Help People

If you want to watch your life ignite, listen to this third story once a day for a month.  Story 3 is about the deepest kind of passion of all: developing a passion for what your life and work are really all about:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life… [9:39]. … 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. [12:05] … 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.” [12:31] [emphasis added]

How you develop your passion in this third circle is deeply personal, but Jobs ably points to the three main things that invariably give both life and work meaning – working to achieve real progress in your field (“Don’t be trapped by dogma”), developing your own sense of purpose (listen to “your own inner voice”), and, ultimately, make your life about serving other people:

The Hidden Message in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Address

So there you go. When you look at the 2005 speech from this perspective, the talk can serve as a powerful set of career guidelines. Ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a passion for the area you’re in, and in learning it more deeply?
  2. Do you have a passion for the process in the work, and in particular for genuine collaborating and learning from failure?
  3. Do you have the passion that comes from a sense of purpose, striving for progress, or helping people?

Jobs’ wise counsel to us is not at all some vague idea about just following a mythical, single passion. It’s about three key passions.

If you can make your way to the intersection of those three circles, that’s when you’ll almost certainly have a life and career that are both truly successful and meaningful.


(Note: A version of this article can also be found on Linkedin.) 

Guy Kawasaki: The First Step Is to Simplify the Goal that Gives You Meaning

Guy Kawasaki, former ‘chief evangelist’ at Apple, recently gave a colorful talk at TEDxBerkeley called The Art of Innovation.

Occasionally, Guy uses such colorful metaphors, particularly in the titles, that a humble translation may help. So here are few thoughts on Guy’s message and how to remember the key points:

1.  ‘Make meaning.’

This is number one because it’s the starting point. You need to be pursuing a real purpose, not just trying to make money. Paradoxically, the innovators who pursued a clear purpose … all made good money. And even when they didn’t, their life had meaning.

2.  ‘Make mantra.’

Translation: Guy says you should reduce your mission to 3 or 4 words – make it a mantra. He says his is “empower people.” eBay’s is “democratize commerce.” But don’t write out a long, boring mission statement and think that’s enough. The reason to have a short mantra is to make sure you really believe in your mission.

3.  ‘Jump to the next curve.’

Easier said than done. It means don’t just try to tinker. Incremental innovation is not really innovation.

“True innovation occurs when you jump to the next curve — or better yet, invent the next curve.”

4. Great products are DICEE: Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering and Elegant.

The key word here, really, is intelligent. According to Guy, “intelligent means the company understood your pain and what you needed.” Translation: to innovate, have deep empathy and spend the time thinking about what your customer or client really needs.

5.  ‘Don’t worry; be crappy.’

Translation: This is an update of ‘Real artists ship,’ the phrase Steve Jobs popularized at Apple. It means don’t get nervous at deadline time: finish and deliver.

Note of course that it comes after you have already gotten your purpose right (point number 1). If your purpose is clear, it’s okay to ship even if there are a few glitches.

6. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.”

Translation: You might set out to innovate “x” and it turns out it’s better used for “y.” Let it become a product used for “y.” Let the ideas evolve. Life, and innovation, are organic. Be flexible.

7. Don’t be afraid to polarize people.

Translation: don’t try to make everyone happy. Pick your group. Make them happy. Don’t worry if you make the other side unhappy. Actually, that’s a good sign.

8. ‘Churn, baby, churn.’

This is the flip side of ‘Real artists ship’ and ‘Don’t worry, be crappy.’

If you did ship and it’s not quite right, then get to work. This is the feedback process, and the feedback process is constant today. 24/7 if you listen to it. Appreciate the feedback. Correct course if you must. Then ship a better product. Keep improving.

9. ‘Niche thyself.’

Translation: a modern version of ‘Know thyself.’ It means focus on what makes you or your product unique.

It’s also the corollary of point 7 (you can’t make everyone happy). Since you can’t make everyone happy, make the people you serve very happy.

10. ‘Perfect your pitch.’

According to conductor Ben Zander, most people have pretty good pitch; it just hasn’t been developed yet.

The same is true in the art of preparing a pitch or presentation. Most people got corporatized into preparing dull powerpoint presentations.

Guy says there are three musts: First, personalize. Demonstrate why you care. Second, sell dreams not products. Explain how what you’re selling can change lives. Third, see Guy’s 10-20-30 rule. It’s right on.

And of course, since Guy promised 10 main points, he offers an 11th. This one may be the most important:

11 . ‘Don’t let the bozos grind you down.’

If you’re honest, admit it: there are bozos in your life. If you let them, they can grind you down. Guy explains who the real bozos are. Whoever they are in your life, if you let them grind you down, forget about innovating.


These are eleven great points. Many thanks to Guy for presenting them in such living color.

How to Create an Innovation Team

“Apple is an incredibly collaborative company,” Steve Jobs said. He may have been making an understatement.

Recently, I met with the CEO of a medium-sized nonprofit in the immigration services sector. His organization provides assistance to new immigrants in the country to help them get settled and adjust to a new life. The organization’s five-year stategic plan was coming to an end, and the CEO wanted to build a new strategy to grow the operations and deal with change like potential budget cuts.

Good Ideas vs Bad Ideas

An Innovation Team can sort the good ideas from the bad

“Do you have an innovation team?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

I explained that he should set one up – a team of key people, from management, staff and his board, to henceforth manage innovation. He liked the idea immediately, to his credit.

For the CEO, it was a new concept. He said he had never previously received advice to set up an innovation team. Quite the contrary, the organization’s existing strategic plan was the usual, outdated, stale corporate speak full of platitudes, vague strategic objectives, a wordy mission statement, and little substance.

Surprisingly, many organizations still follow these old models and methods. They see innovation as something only the big companies do. They are wrong.

If your organization is serious about dealing with change today, or aiming to grow its business, here is a simple three-step plan:

Step 1: The first step to is to set up the innovation team. This particular organization wanted to target the twin goals of developing new funding sources as well as expanding the services it provides. It will need to innovate in both areas.

Step 2: The next step is to put the right people on the innovation team. This is an art in itself. If there is one core principle to follow it is that you want to have a diversity of talent on the team. Creativity flourishes when there is a diversity of talents, skills and viewpoints.

Step 3: The third step is to train the team members to properly understand the innovation process and develop innovation skills.

By setting up a proper process to organize and manage innovation, you elevate it to one of the organization’s priorities. Innovating becomes part of the ongoing operations. New ideas are managed, turned into projects, and executed. It’s no longer just a matter of collecting good ideas and hoping someone acts on them.