Monday Mornings with Madison

Words of Wisdom from Steve Jobs – Part 2

The Power of Doing What You Love

Last week, we began a three-part series reflecting on the Commencement Speech Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, delivered to Stanford University students on June 12, 2005.  His speech basically told three stories.  Each was a message unto itself.  The first part was about trying new things without worrying about connecting the dots.

This week, we’ll read the second part of his Commencement Speech – just as he spoke it – plus a little commentary at the end.  In his second story, he talked about finding and doing what you love.  This advice is not revolutionary, but neither is it necessarily common or easy to achieve.   Mr. Jobs found his passion, lost it, and then found it again. He and the world were the better for it.

My second story is about love and loss.

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 in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. It was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. 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. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

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.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar… Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Mr. Jobs’ advice to those young men and women was to find what they love to do in order to do great work.  This is interesting advice to give to a graduating class of college students, who had already spent four full years (and in many cases five or six years) taking courses, studying, deciding on a major and completing a degree.  One might even wonder if perhaps that advice was offered a bit late.  On the other hand, perhaps that was precisely Mr. Jobs’ point.  It is never too late in life to figure out what you love doing and then pursue it with gusto, even if your credentials point in one direction but your passion leads in another.  As he said, “Keep looking until you find it.  Don’t settle.”

Evidence indicates that Mr. Jobs’ advice may be something more people need to hear and heed.  A survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the United Kingdom of 700 graduates found that 60% worked in an area unrelated to their degree.  Another study done this year by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found that nearly half of recent college graduates work in a field unrelated to their major.  Much of that is probably the result of an economy that forces people to accept a job – any job – just to survive.  However, this disconnect between work and passion existed long before the recession.  In 2002, a poll by The Gallup Organization showed that 71% of the U.S. working population were either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. 

If this issue seems irrelevant to the average business owner or manager, think again.  The absence of passion in employees is not just a philosophical or psychological matter.  It is also a serious business problem.  Far too many companies have employees who are passionless about their work.  There are profound implications not just for disengaged employees but also for the companies employing those who view their work as what they ‘must do’ rather than what they love to do.  Passionless workers flounder or just get by, and they usually drag down their workplaces with them. 

However, the most successful companies specifically focus on recruiting and hiring people with passion and foster passion in the workplace.  Strategies include:

  • identifying the strengths of all employees so employees get the opportunity to do what they do best,
  • hiring people into the right jobs, so they can use their talents more often and more effectively,
  • hiring great managers who are engaged and passionate about helping others discover their talents, and
  • creating an environment that encourages employees to become more engaged and passionate about their roles.

Indeed, Mr. Jobs’ advice was definitely not revolutionary.  The Greeks did not write obituaries. At the end of a man’s life, they simply asked, ‘Did he have passion?’  The Greeks – and centuries later, Steve Jobs — understood that passion is central to the quality of human life.  It is the force within that allows us to live with gusto — with excitement and wonder.  Passion in the workplace drives a relentless desire to help and please.  It is an audacious force that motivates.  It spurs a hunger for excellence that is insatiable.  Passion produces a thirst for success that is unquenchable.  It fuels a devotion to an organization that is unfailing.  Passion drives the entrepreneur, motivates the athlete, calls the missionary, and births the leader. 

While his advice was not new or novel, he did practice what he preached.  Mr. Jobs’ life exemplified the advice he gave.  He found what he loved to do, did great work as a result and used fully the unique talents with which he was blessed.  And he instilled that philosophy at the companies he built.   

Quote of the Week

“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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