Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Apple a day.....

I didn’t graduate from Standford University in 2005 – but I did graduate from Smurfit School of Business, where a very wise professor mentioned to me that Steve Jobs’ commencement speech which he delivered to the Graduation Class of 2005 was worth a listen. I was intrigued.

To me, Steve Jobs was the genius behind Apple, globally renowned entrepreneur, the creator of the ‘i’ universe we now all reside in.

It merely took a 20 minute speech to learn that there was so much more than meets the ‘i’ (pardon the pun!) when it comes to Steve Jobs. He is a great orator with a wonderful story, three wonderful stories actually, and three stories I feel should be shared.

1. Connecting the dots

Jobs was a college dropout. But dropping out of Reed College turned out to be one of the best decisions he made. Had he not dropped out of his college course, he would never have dropped in on a calligraphy class and in turn, the MAC would never have had the multiple typefaces it offered. It’s a simple tale, with a potent message - as Jobs explains ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever’.

2. Love and loss

‘You’ve got to find what you love’ – Luckily for Jobs he found it early in life, and at the age of 20 he founded Apple with Woznaik. Jobs was subsequently fired from his own company (not quite the love story we’d all envisaged!). Yet Jobs wasn’t deterred, he still loved what he did. In the five years after his ousting from Apple, he courageously started a company called NeXT and another called Pixar and married his wife, Laurence. In a twist of fate, Apple bought NeXT and Jobs returned to the helm of Apple once more.

Whilst many others would bury their head in the ground, Jobs didn’t, his reasoning –
‘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. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. 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.’

3. Death

A morbid topic for a commencement speech, not so. It’s a refreshingly honest viewpoint on death.

‘Of you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right’.

This quotation had a profound impact on Jobs’ life. Each morning, he admits to looking in the mirror and asking himself ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ If the answer to this was no for too many days in a row, he knew he needed to change something. This analogy of life aids with the big choices he makes in his life. Remembering that you are going to die, Jobs says, is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you’ve something to lose.

Jobs opens up about his brush with death, a diagnosis in 2004 relating to a tumour on his pancreas. He was told it was incurable – and to expect to live no longer than 3-6 months. The diagnosis was inaccurate and the form of pancreatic cancer Jobs had was curable.

He reveals his insight into death ‘the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it’. Describing death as the single best invention of Life, as it is life’s change agent, it purpose being to clear out the old to make way for the new.
It is then Jobs truly focuses on the graduates, and tells them that they are the new, but that someday they will become the old and be cleared away. Why the need for such a dramatic statement?

Jobs wants young graduates to realise that their time is limited. He doesn’t want others to waste it living someone else’s life. He continues...‘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.’

The three wonderful stories had a profound impact on me. I too am a young, ambitious graduate – merely attempting to connect the dots, searching for what she loves, and knowing for too many days in a row that I’m not doing what I’d want to do with my life if today was my last day. I’m not giving up though, I will strive to find it.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers to most, but to me he is so much more – it is the person behind the title, the story of how he gained the title, lost it and regained it once more, his personal struggles, and his philosophies on life which leave me enthralled.

Hearing the news of his resignation last week, saddened me deeply, with further rumours circulating around his deteriorating health cited as his reason for doing so.

Jobs signed off the commencement speech with the words ‘Stay Hungry! Stay Foolish’ – a message he has always wished for himself. So Steve, as you resign I wish that for you, I hope you will continue to inspire, encourage and motivate the young graduates of today with your excellence.

‘Stay Hungry! Stay Foolish Steve!’

The Forgotten Irish Graduate, September 2011