The guiding principle in the life of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the visionary US entrepreneur that gave us many wonderful tools (Mac, iPhone, iPad) and animations (Toy Story, Finding Nemo) that the world has grown to love, has just passed away.
He is an entrepreneur and innovator that I truly admire. This is even more so after I have watched his 2005 speech at Stanford University. He shared 3 important points:
1. Connecting the dots in life
Steve Jobs shared about his bad start in life, where he was given away for adoption by his unwed natural mother. His adopted parents promised and fulfilled the promise to give him a college life. He chose to drop out of college after 6 months, because it cost his adopted parents a lot of money and he had no idea what the college degree would do for his life. He stayed on as a college drop-in for another 18 months. He could then attend the courses that he liked, instead of those that he did not like but had to take to fulfil the degree’s requirements.
It wasn’t that he knew exactly what he was doing back then. He took a journey off the well-beaten path. It was scary, but he wanted to follow his curiosity and trust that things will turn out ok in the end. He did not see the dots when he started out. They only connected when he looked back with hindsight.
2. Love what you do
He loved what he did and grew Apple Inc. within 10 years to become a US$2 billion company with 4,000 employees. Then, he was fired at age 30 because of differences in vision with Apple’s board about the company’s direction. He became a high-profile ‘failure’, known throughout the world for being fired from his own company. Ironically, that loss gave him the lightness of being a beginner all over again. From there, he founded NeXT Computer Inc. (which was later sold to Apple and he re-joined Apple) and Pixar Animation.
He shared that life sometimes hit you hard with a brick. However, as long as you have genuine love and passion for what you are doing, you can cope with it, as he has demonstrated by bouncing back stronger than ever.
3. Facing the certainty of death
He has learnt from a young age to understand human mortality. Death is the destination that we all share. Instead of being morbid about it, he used it to follow his heart; to do what he felt was necessary. He called on us not to be trapped by living other people’s life for us, but to find the courage to follow our heart and intuition. Indeed, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had to deal with various illnesses along the way. Yet, he went on to create the hugely successful iPhone and iPad even while fighting his illnesses.
Steve Jobs ended his Stanford talk with the phrase, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. It was something he read when he was a young man, and it became his guiding principle throughout life. He wished that for the Stanford graduates as they journey in their lives.
I totally understand and appreciate his perspective in life. I had undergone a journey too where I decided at some point, that I was chasing academic qualifications without the love for what I was doing. So I left a secure career to begin a journey to find and connect the dots in my life.
I found my passion later running businesses, first as a professional manager for an entrepreneurial company and later starting out my own. When you have found the passion for what you do, work was never a chore. Each day was filled with new challenges that you look forward to overcome. My company nearly failed a couple of times. I saw them as bricks that life threw at me. These were challenges you just have to overcome.
I left the company I founded after 9 years. Nothing man-made is too important that we cannot let go of. And in letting go, we have to trust that the dots that will come will somehow connect together.
Death is a certainty for all. We do not have long to live. I rather live my own life than to worry how other people want me to live it.
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
I feel Singaporeans can do with a dose of the advice from Steve Jobs. Often, we go through life living it for someone else.
Too often, we seek the security of our qualifications. With the qualifications, we find a secure job. With so much at stake, we do not wish to take risks anymore. When I was starting off after leaving my academic career, I wanted to stay hungry. I prefer not to be too comfortable with life that I would not want to venture out anymore. My wife and I started our first venture when our three children were very young. We threw in all our savings. By being hungry, we had to make it happen.
Being foolish is going against conventional wisdom. Steve Jobs natural mother wanted him to go through college so that he could have a secured life. That was her condition for giving him up for adoption. His adopted parents fulfilled that promise and sent him to college. Steve Jobs wanted something else. He wanted to follow his passion, even though he did not fully know what that was then. He did not choose a lazy path by stopping his studies. He continued in college taking courses out of interest, and one of the courses influenced how he designed Apple later on. He worked harder to continue learning, and he chose what he wanted to learn rather than to be constrained by course requirements. By staying hungry and foolish, he went on to turn his passion into great inventions.
Our society has grown into one where we promote elitism. We encourage people to pursue good paper qualifications, sometimes at the expense of cultivating the love for learning. Learning is mostly to achieve the grades. We use our education system to sieve out the academically able to prepare a secure career path for them. Our system has evolved into one in which academic results become linked to one’s value in society. This has led many parents to become highly anxious over the education of their children. Hence, I am not in favour of the high number of scholarships our government institutions and government-linked companies dish out yearly. It creates an unnatural sense of security and discourages risk taking. Our best talents are not prepared to take risks, whether in their professional jobs or to venture out on their own. And we wonder why we cannot produce innovative world-class companies.
As we continue to use our iPhones and iPads, or enjoy the next Pixar movie, let’s remember that the man who gave these to us advised us that sometimes, it is better to stay hungry and to stay foolish. Trust in your own instincts, follow your heart and if required, break free from the secure.
Thank you for what you have shown to the world. Very few people prepared for death as well as you did and lived life as fully as you did. Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.