I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, 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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
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. I 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, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. 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. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
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. 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.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
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.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.
4:28 p.m. | Updated Much has been and will be written about Steve Jobs’s outsize footprint in digital culture: the screens we stare at, the music files we listen to, the hardware in our pockets. I’d stipulate to all that, but I found myself thinking about his less obvious influence on business and the journalists who cover it.
Business has always been important, but until Mr. Jobs arrived, it was rarely accused of being cool. As a young reporter I made a lane change from writing about pop culture and politics to business, and I can remember the look of sympathy from my colleagues and the message that went with it: Good luck in the Land of the Suits. Business, while vital to the civic common, was not thought to be an important part of the stories that we tell each other.
It was not always thus. In the 1940s, Henry Luce, using both Time and Fortune, made business seem remarkable, with portraits of the lions of capitalism coursing down the broad avenues of New York in taxis on the way to doing remarkable things that made the hopelessness of the Great Depression seem distant. But as success became routine, it also became institutionalized, with faceless corporations like U.S. Steel and General Motors lording over the smooth running engines of commerce. With the tumult of Vietnam and the battle for civil rights grabbing the headlines, news about business seemed very much beside the point.
Business and business news regained luster when the masters of the universe began to lord over Wall Street in the 1980s, but it became obvious to the press, perhaps too slowly, that many of them were simply common thieves with extra zeroes behind their crimes. This was just after Mr. Jobs and Steve Wozniak came storming out of their garage in the late ’70s. They seemed remarkable in a business environment that seemed to belong to men with gray hair and fancy suits hiding their expansive guts, as well as their considerable earnings.
As America switched from a country that made things to one that bought them, so much of business began to exist in the abstract, with deeds exchanged and stocks sold. Mr. Jobs did not just move money around. He made things that he promised would change the world, and they often did. The fact that Mr. Jobs and Apple made objects that consumers could touch, and often did, made him someone worth writing about and paying attention to no matter what he did. Steve Jobs was not a suit. He said that taking LSD was one of the formative experiences of his life and had very little interest in consumer research.
Beyond that, no one played the press like Mr. Jobs. It had less to do with his black turtleneck than the head for business that floated above it. From the very beginning, he understood that any consumer enterprise had to have a strong element of show business, to create excitement and demand. An Apple launch had less to do with a traditional product rollouts than the magician’s “reveal,” a moment of wonder in which a mystery morphed into an actual product. Yes, sometimes the devices were magical, but all the more so because of how they arrived. In his presentations, his products sometimes literally introduced themselves.
In this context, the press was neither enemy nor ally to Mr. Jobs, but just one more tool in the kit. He understood the media’s appetite for what they did not know, and he tantalized them with scarcity and secrecy. Other chief executives would play footsie with reporters, feeding them a little kibble now and then to keep them interested. When Mr. Jobs called a reporter — he called me a few times — it was to argue, compliment or admonish, probing and searching, but all the while giving away nothing fundamentally interesting about the company. Steve Jobs never showed any leg until he was good and ready.
Others have tried to duplicate the approach, but over the long haul, theatrics don’t matter unless you deliver. Mr. Jobs was an impresario who came through, time and again, so his shows were always well attended.
His well-documented force field extended to other corners of business coverage. Failure was never much of a credential until Mr. Jobs got hold of it. There was the flop of the Lisa computer during his first tour at Apple, the specter of him being forced to walk the plank at his own company, and then the face-planting when he was on his own with NeXT.
Those pratfalls would be enough to sink any business executive for good, but Mr. Jobs never bought into things like reputational damage or fatal mistakes. To him, all those events were just inflection points on his way to changing computing, music, telecommunications and publishing. The future vindicated his past — first in his return to Apple and then as a creator and owner of Pixar.
His ability to rise from the dead made him scary. No one commanded the respect of the press like Mr. Jobs. I can remember a visit he made to The New York Times when the first iPad came out. The Times is a notoriously blasé place, where heads of state have been known to come and go without raising an eyebrow. But when Mr. Jobs came, the effect was electric. For three days, his advance team swept through our place, attending to every detail and making sure his time there would be seamless and glitch-free.
We were all seated when he came in, in part because there were medical reasons for him to avoid grip and grins, but the whole rock star thing was in high effect. And then it was on. No one asks a casual question of Steve Jobs.
That’s partly because Steve Jobs loved to argue. One of his great gifts was his ability to deal with geeks, business wonks and media savants on their own terms and often come up on top. Sometimes he did it based on facts; other times, just plain stubbornness. Just as he made the mouse and the disc drive disappear simply by saying it should be so, he prevailed in long-running debates over software and the media business through steady assertion — using all the leverage that his products and online retail presence conveyed.
Which brings us back to how he changed business journalism — its image and its attractiveness. Because he was a showman, because he made interesting things that consumers cared about, readers began to follow his products as they might a band or their favorite team. Being an Apple user became a marker of cultural identity and conveyed cool. Some of that splashed onto those who covered business.
Now, young reporters with good prospects often start in business coverage, becoming conversant in unit sales, earnings per share, and Ebidta. The best and brightest of them can be found chasing the latest rumor out of Silicon Valley or peering under the hood of the just-hatched start-up. There are a lot of forces in play that make that so, but you’d have to credit Steve Jobs with making business something that did not belong to the suits.
Business reporters hated Apple’s secrecy and found Mr. Jobs’s arrogance wearying, but we all knew that our craft picked up some glitz and esteem because of his involvement. Our readers, his consumers, cared about the guy and everything he did. He made business cool by using it to make cool stuff. It was fun to be along for the ride.
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
Steve Jobs died yesterday. With him died one of the greatest visionaries who changed the lifestyle of the modern world. Indeed, he was the harbinger of a revolution like no other. He touched the life of practically every one of Capitalism’s greatest creation – the middle class, which increasingly is becoming one huge global community of consumers. He changed the way the world listens to music, watches movies, uses the phone or the personal computer, among many others. The Apple co-founder is the architect behind the company’s phenomenal rebirth and phoenix-like rise from what everybody had once presumed was the atrophying skeleton of a very sick but fabulous company, Steve Job’s inspiring speech at the Stanford University Commencement Function 2005 ended with a quote from a magazine of his college days, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. This was, in essence the advice he had for the “freshers” who had joined the prestigious Ivy League University in California, USA in that year. The advice might as well have been extended to not just every scholar in the world but to everybody else who value creativity. Learning is a process and not any finite event. But much more than the mere statement of a well acknowledged truism, it is a clarion call to all to never settle at any destination in life, but to continue to strive to be better. The only way to ensure the energy for this outlook to life remains undiminished, is to always thirst for more knowledge in the belief that what is already known is nothing compared to what can still be learned. There can be nobody more fit to have preached this than the Steve Job, whose creative energy continued to remain at its peak even as entered the late 50s of life, having designed extremely successful “cool” products that did not end with just personal computers and laptops, but also went ahead to redefine the way the world listened to music, watched movies, kept in touch, or visited the virtual world of the internet. Quite without doubt one of the richest man in the world today, there probably would not be many anywhere whose lifestyles have not been influenced in some way or the other by the numerous creations of somebody who may go down in history as one of the most creative men ever. Arguably in this sense he would have touched more lives than even his old time arch rival and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, although on the philanthropic mission and not just creativity, the latter would be undoubtedly far beyond him, too far perhaps for him to ever catch up.
This is not an attempt to assess and compare the achievements of the two. There is in fact little left to be written about them and their achievements anymore. The point is merely to underscore the message so well articulated by Job that creativity is about remaining creative forever, and this precisely through a willingness to remain hungry and have the humility to acknowledge there can never be anything as enough when it comes to learning. This spirit of adventure, defined by a burning desire to discover, invent, venture and take risk has been the hallmark of all successful and creative societies. Consequently, all societies which have ceased to be adventurous would with a measure of certainty, stagnate and ultimately fade into insignificance. The important and more urgent question is, where would our own society fare against such a barometer of creative energy? Are we still hungry for achievement? Can we still claim to be creative? It probably is a mixed bag. On the one hand there is a constant escalation of what is probably the biggest agent for the destruction of creativity – official corruption. Merit, enterprise, endurance and all such priceless qualities that add to the creative energy of a society are being systematically decimated. By choice and increasingly by compulsion, more and more are being drawn into the vortex of this depthless Black Hole of corruption. Sadly, the accepted social goal of respectability today has also come to be simply “wealth” without any qualification as to how it had been acquired. The easiest way to acquire wealth in the present social circumstance being corruption, the issue has undergone a terrible mutation so that it has literally come to mean the most corrupt and thereby the most filthily rich, are also the most respected citizens of today. If this is one side of the story, there is another where the picture is not so depressing. In fields of activities autonomous of the government job market, the hunger for achievement is still undiminished. The evidence in the manner the state’s theatre, cinema, other performing arts, doctors, scientists, sportspersons etc, consistently earn the respect of the rest of the country and the world?
- Steve Jobs’ advice, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” (itsonelife.com)
- Video: Steve Jobs At Stanford: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ (paidcontent.org)
- “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” (coopcatalyst.wordpress.com)
Apple‘s co-founder, who died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday at the age of 56, also shared his wisdom with the world through his words.
Below are some of the late innovator’s most memorable quotes:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… 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.” –Stanford commencement speech, 2005
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me… Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” –Wall Street Journal, 1993
“Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” –Wired Magazine, 1996
“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” –Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple, 1987
“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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Stanford commencement speech, 2005
“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” -Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward, 1988
“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.” – Stanford commencement speech, 2005