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Using Steve Jobs’ Death to Bring Us Back To Life

From Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement address, June 2005   This was while he was at Pixar, before rejoining Apple.  [The italics are mine.]

“I didn’t see it then, but 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…”

“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…”

So perhaps the shock of Steve Jobs’ death can jolt us out of the rut that the “heaviness of being successful” has put us in and steer us off of the self-destructive path of conformity, arrogance and groupthink.  We used to be a nation filled with Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s, focused not on petty politics and power, but on creating and selling the goods and services that made the world a better place. Steve Job’s speeches really hit home – but not because we never heard “think big, think different, nothing you cant do” before.  Rather, because we grew up infused with that optimism.  If Americans can agree on anything these days, it’s that innovation represents our greatest opportunity to revitalize our economy and get us going again.

But to get there, we need to  understand  what can we learn from his example that can make a difference in the organizations and institutions to which we contribute?  What do leaders need to understand in order to create an environment in which people can feel excited about a future with endless possibilities and the confidence that together we can do anything?  So if we want to get back on the road to innovative excellence, be prepared to take the harder one – the one less traveled.  Here are the principles that, in my view, are likely to get and keep you on that path:

1.     Product must trump profit

Just when the technical community thought there was nothing Jobs could do to top his most recent amazing product, he would stand on the Apple amphitheater stage and say matter-of-factly – “Oh, and one more thing.”

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