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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GroupThink – The Virus That Brings The Mighty To Its Knees

“Groupthink” was first used in 1952 by William White in Fortune[i] magazine to describe faulty group decision-making caused by an autocratic team culture that rewards conformity and discourages disagreement.

Whether it’s a rush into a poor investment, a poorly conceived economic strategy, or the launching of war, groupthink has wreaked major collatoral damage worldwide.  Among the many high-profile disasters, the crash of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 was a direct result of groupthinkAccording to NBC News space analyst James Oberg: “engineers who had qualms about the O-rings were bullied or bamboozled into acquiescence.”[ii]

In some cases, like the Challenger disaster, pressure to conform is observable and even openly discussed and acknowledged inside the organization.  But in most cases, groupthink overtakes healthy debate unnoticed. Most people are unaware of contributing to or being part of groupthink.  It’s like a “Trojan Horse” virus that becomes apparent only by looking back at a disastrous decision that seemed sensible at the time.

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

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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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Early Career Success: The Parent’s Role

Raising strong, independent children requires that we ‘let go’ so they can separate and find their own way, yet stay connected enough for them to check back in for shelter and refueling as their needs dictate  (From my book Connect For Success, 2010).


As the transition from school to career gets more complex and challenging, we parents feel even more pressure to actively “help”.  But exactly how do we translate our helpful intentions and healthy protective instincts into actions that our nearly adult children will be receptive to, feel supported by, and actually be helped by in the short and long run?  The suggestions that follow are based on conclusions I have drawn from:

  • Facilitating workshops with young men and women transitioning from to college and career
  • Exploring these issues in greater depth with clients as a psychotherapist and coach
  • As a parent of three children now 28, 25 and 23h.
As an art and inexact discipline carried out by highly imperfect and unique individuals,  parenting is far from one-size-fits-all.  There are universal principles of effective parenting to guide us, but  each parent must discover their own parenting “sweet spot” over time.  So any feedback, suggestions, or stories you can share below after reading this will add to the collective wisdom and usefulness of this blog.
Four ways we can leverage our role as parents

1. Listen: Your child will learn the most from those with whom they feel safe sharing their most difficult experiences when they are feeling most vulnerable.  We want one of the people they seek out to be us!  For this reason, honing and activating non-judgmental listening-for-understanding skill is the most important priority.  Effective parenting at this stage is all about listening loudly, and advising very quietly and selectively.  It is about connecting with your children in a way that gives them the good feelings that will encourage them to keep you in the loop and share more and more honestly what they are struggling with at a given moment.  Most of the problems our children face on the job are ones they will be able to figure out for themselves or identify peers and mentors with the right expertise to help them (an important collaboration skill that will grow as we pull back).  Rarely do they need direct advice as much as they need to vent, think things through, get validation and support, and feel a connection with a strong family support system to which they can turn whenever they need it.

2. Help them to see the best in themselves.  Our job as parents is mostly to keep them confident enough to keep trying, even when they feel like giving up.  The more quickly we instruct, the more they are reminded that we will step in, and the less likely the chance they will discover and access their own resources.  Achievement is rarely about talent, knowledge and skills.  Rather, it is about optimizing what we have.  And that requires pushing the envelope and taking chances, and being willing to fail on the way to success.  The path to success is always through adversity.  So let’s not deprive them of that by giving solutions prematurely.

3.  Manage your own worries and fears so it doesn’t become their job to protect us from being upset. Our kids have a way of sensing when we are anxious and worried about them.  They then respond by taking care of and protecting Mom and Dad by telling them what they want to hear, and by having to create a facade.  This can include giving a parent the satisfaction of being their coach and advisor.  They don’t need the advice as much as they know how much being helpful makes you feel good.

4.  Help our grown children take the risk of responding honestly to us when do give them guidance.  Encourage them to disagree, push back, and let us know when we are being helpful and less than helpful. And then we need to respond to their feedback in a way that encourages them to give us more.

To achieve this, we must be prepared to feel frustrated, useless and helpless.  Their struggles stimulate our parenting instincts and we have to get used to the frustration of not being able to comfort them.  But like the lessons learned the first time we drop them off at kindergarten, they can’t begin to grow until we separate from them.

Raising strong, independent children requires that we ‘let go’ so they can separate and find their own way, yet stay connected enough for them to check back in for shelter and refueling as their needs dictate.  It means living with the immediate risks attached to flying out of the nest for the first time to face the world at their most vulnerable. But there is no escaping those trials and tribulations.  Calluses don’t grow on feet that never touch the ground.  And self-confidence cannot develop without being on your own to sink or swim and live with the consequences.

Two final thoughts to keep in mind:

As much as we think we teach our children by what we say, we all know that what they learn from us is what they see us do and how they experience us day in and day out. Who we are is who we are, and that is what we give them.

As life goes on, they will have increasingly more access to people with subject matter expertise that match their needs at that time, freeing us up to fulfill the role we do best – being Moms and Dads and the No. 1 source of the unconditional love upon which they rely.

Let me know what you think?

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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The 10 Keys To Staying Grounded (and true to yourself)

“Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meter” Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”


Let me offer a toast to your career success from a familiar Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you,

May the wind be at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rains fall soft upon your fields…

And to assure that you are fully protected…

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Self-Awareness: The most powerful predictor of success

Unlike school, where the emphasis was on learning the “what”, “why” and “how” of the world, the cornerstone of workplace success is about the “who.”  And by “who” we mean you and enhancing your self-awareness.  We should probably take a minute to explain why exactly self-awareness is the cornerstone of Handbook For Early Career Success and Connect For Success — both advertised as offering a ’competitive edge‘ in the workplace.

Self-awareness is the most powerful predictor of workplace success. Sounds good but what does it mean?  More powerful than how smart you are or how hard you work or how motivated you are or how much you know or how experienced you are?  Come on.  How is that possible?

Glad I asked myself. Let me tell you a story that might help explain.   This is the true story of perhaps the most acclaimed competitors and champions of all time.

We meet him early in his career.  Undersized and knobby-kneed, he behaved and performed more like a burnt-out has-been than a future legend. His attitude was every bit as problematic as his physical attributes. Given to overeating and sleeping all day, what this cranky and stubborn ‘ne’er do well’ produced as a competitor, was far outweighed by what it cost to keep him around.

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