What makes for success & fosters innovation?

The joy of exploring – what work should be.

With the announcement of Steve Jobs stepping down from the role of Apple’s CEO there have been a flood of responses from various communities like the media, business pundits, and the general public. The majority have recognized that whatever you might think about particular aspects of his approach to leading Apple & Pixar, there is general consensus that he possesses a combination of leadership & vision that are rare in any era. For example, I don’t much like the closed nature of the Apple universe, but appreciate why he took that path. But among all the posts, thoughtful, blathering, critical, or laudatory, the short piece by Carmine Gallo in Forbes was among the most succinct.

Gallo titles the post “What makes Steve “Steve”?”  Gallo is no stranger to the topic of Steve Jobs, having written two books about him in the recent past. However, in this post from Forbes he zeros in on the seven things that distinguish creative innovations leading to success, an which typify what makes Steve “Steve”.  Gallo’s post is worth reading for the elaboration on each point but I’ll provide the short list below:

  1. Do what you love
  2. Put a dent in the universe
  3. Connect things to spark your creativity
  4. Say no to 1,000 things
  5. Create insanely different experiences
  6. Master the message
  7. Sell dreams, not products

Do what you love – The first is not just arbitrary in order of priority,  it is the priority.  Just a few days ago in Lifehacker  David Fuhriman wrote a  post entitled “If You Wouldn’t Do Your Job For Free, Then Quit“.  His brother had graduated from Yale in 2009 and during the graduation proceedings a list of  ‘advice’, you know, the platitudes that seem to always accompany graduation ceremonies everywhere, were given to the soon to become lawyers, writers, and the highly educated unemployed.

  • An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two, and an hour of work before noon is worth two.
  • Always pick your kids up from school. That’s when they want to talk.
  • Never let your skill exceed your virtue.
  • Never take less than two weeks off when you have a child or for your honeymoon. Don’t let them talk you down.
  • When you mess up, admit it frankly and quickly, and move on.
  • Always do your very best in your job, but if you don’t like what you’re doing enough that you would do it for free, quit.

It was the last of these that Fuhriman reacted to most, and led him on a quest to change jobs (he was doing accounting) through several intermediate “test” careers to his current career (small business consulting), where he seems to have found himself and his niche.  This last piece of advice,  do what you’d do whether paid or not, is all about finding your passion because there in lies the intrinsic motivation that you need to put in the ‘10,000 hours‘ it takes to have the potential to achieve great things.

Put a dent in the universe  – This is pretty obvious. Do what matters.  If what you’re doing doesn’t mean a hill of beans in this world why in would you waste the precious time you have doing it? What matters doesn’t mean solving world peace or creating the successor to the iPod. Being there for your kids, or making a difference in the lives of those around you in some small way each day are things that matter, too. The point is changing the world is good – it’s just that the world is a complex system made up on things big and small.  The scale part isn’t the thing, the ‘mattering’ part is.

Connect things to spark your creativity – This is one of the areas that makes higher education so powerful, and simultaneously one of the attributes about it most in jeopardy. The horizontal thinking that comes from intellectual exploration is often among the first things sacrificed in the pursuit of learning outcomes. We often don’t know or can’t tell in advance what it is that will make the difference in understanding a subject, or how a set of subjects will bring understanding to us.  Yet it’s precisely these lateral elements that come under the microscope when asked to demonstrate their return on investment. It’s the ‘liberal’ in a liberal arts education. Given the political polarisation today perhaps this should be rebadged “lateral arts” education.  It is what Gallo points out Jobs was masterful at, creating things by joining the dots between ideas in different fields.  It’s the truth behind the aphorism research is most productive at the intersection of disciplines.

Say no to 1,000 things – This one is where I typically fail miserably. Yet I’ve heard it in so many contexts that there is no doubt in my mind that it’s true. Focus, focus, focus. To do that means saying “no”.  A colleague of mine at the Sloan School at MIT told me about the lessons he learned in the first few years of being a faculty member there. When asked what was different about his new position at Sloan, he thought a moment and said, ” Each week someone will pop their head in my office, describe an insanely interesting research project, and ask if I’d like to participate in it.  Week in and week out a face will appear and point out a line of research or a grant opportunity that sounds like it’s just impossible to pass up. It was really hard at first because I never had experiences like this before. But here it’s different. Here the secret is saying ‘no’ not saying ‘yes’.  The good news, ” he concluded “is that the really terrific thing that you passed up two months ago and turned out to be spectacularly successful, doesn’t really make you feel as bad because you know something’s going to come along as good or better in the weeks and months ahead.” It’s all about saying ‘no’ to most things so that the things you say ‘yes’ to you can put your whole being into.

You can read the rest about what makes Steve “Steve” in Gallo’s post.  It was the first set that really rang true for me and I think resonate across discipline are professional boundaries. But it’s the first that matters most. Being able to get up each and every day and eagerly approach ‘work’ with anticipation and gratitude, that’s priceless.

— pdl —

About longpd

I'm a senior scholar at Georgetown University, in CNDLS, a technologist and lapsed evolutionary biologist with an incandescent passion for new modes of seeing and learning.
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