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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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“The Diversity Advantage” or “Birds of a Feather Will Fail Together”

For a more detailed discussion, read “Leveraging Connecting Style Diversity” in Connect for Success or Handbook for Early Career Success.

The fact is that since any one style represents just one of four different perspectives and problem solving approaches, surrounding yourself with and incorporating the thinking and perspectives of individuals from the other three styles gives you a distinct performance advantage (to get the most from this blog, take the Connecting Style Survey and find out what your style is.). And there is a significant body of research backing this up.

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, describes in his autobiography how the differences between his partner Bill Gates and himself made the power of their partnership far greater than the sum of  the parts.

“The main reason the tandem held together for more than a couple of years was that each of the entrepreneurs brought something valuable to the table. Mr Gates’s single-minded focus on winning everything, whether a chess game or a vital business deal, was complemented by his partner’s ability to see the bigger picture—an ability reinforced by Mr Allen’s eclectic set of outside interests, ranging from music to sport and science fiction. Mr Allen acknowledges that the two men were “extraordinary partners”.

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To The Graduating Class of 2014

Dear Class of 2014:    Like it or not, you are venturing into new territory as you begin your career journeys.  America no longer has the dominance it once had and given the pace of change across every dimension that influences American industry, no one quite knows for sure what the new rules for career success will be long term.   But with several years of teaching and coaching individuals and teams struggling to compete and thrive, I want to share what I have observed about the the differences between those who have thrived and those who have been overwhelmed in this environment.  And I want to focus on what, for me, is most essential to understand — how to avoid being a victim and instead, leverage your personal power to achieve your goals in the real world of personalities, insecurities, territoriality, and lets not forget — unprecedented opportunity!

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