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Steve Jobs Can Still Change Our Lives

Steve Jobs has already changed our lives in innumerable ways.  His wisdom lives on in his quotes.  Here are a few that deeply resonate with me – and why.

1. “I’M CONVINCED THAT ABOUT HALF OF WHAT SEPARATES SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS FROM THE NON-SUCCESSFUL ONES IS PURE PERSEVERENCE”.

This is so very true.  My first lesson in perseverance came, many moons ago, from the guy who ran a major family of mutual funds.  He said to me, “Most people quit calling a prospect after the third call.  Less than 10% of calls get closed after the third call.  Over 90% get closed after the second call”.  I took his words to heart.  No response or a “no” answer were just parts of a long-term journey.  I found that to be true when, after seven years of quarterly calls with zero response, one prospect called me and spoke to me as if I were his long-lost friend.  He thought we had a relationship, even though we never spoke.  That told me volumes.

When I started SCB Forums, well north of 25 years ago, I was told by people I respect that the firm will never make it.  The value proposition was too experiential.  Yet here I still am…

The problem is, we quit too soon when things don’t go according to explicit or unstated expectations.  Perseverance is a great quality.  For me it’s more hard-headedness than perseverance.  I just hate giving up – at work, at home, in my kitchen.   

2. “MY FAVORITE THINGS IN LIFE DON’T COST MONEY.  IT’S REALLY CLEAR THAT THE MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE WE ALL HAVE IS TIME”.

These really are two separate statements.  The first is true for some of us, but not for all.  I love to travel, and that costs money.  I love to eat well, and that doesn’t always come cheap either.  But when I truly focus on what matters, as we all do, it’s my family.  And for that one needs money too – to be able to see them and to “bribe” them with nice locations so you can spend some of their precious vacation time together.

Which brings me to the second point.  Time is indeed one of the few things (like health) we can’t buy.  It’s finite from the moment we are born.  Spending it wisely and thoughtfully is what life is all about.

Again, thanks to a wonderful mentor I had early in my career, I was taught that lesson when I thought time was infinite.  Through his eyes I saw how flitting it can be, and determined to allocate it based upon my real priorities in life.  The lesson from Jobs is similar.  Ponder and select your favorite things, then spend your time to maximize them.  For some it’s family, for not for everyone.  The key is optimizing your most scarce resource – TIME.  Money helps, but it can’t make more time.

3. “MY MODEL FOR BUSINESS IS THE BEATLES.  THEY WERE FOUR GUYS WHO KEP EACH OTHER’S KIND OD NEGATIVE TENDENCIES IN CHECK.  THEY BALANCES EACH OTHER, AND THE TOTAL WAS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF THE PARTS.  THAT’S HOW I SEE BUSINESS:  GREAT THINGS ARE NEVER DONE BY ONE PERSON, THEY’RE DONE BY A TEAM OF PEOPLE”.

I have articulated this great observation much less effectively:  “Every person has weaknesses, but the right team does not”.  Even if one is the clear leader and major driver of your unit, organization, team, they can’t achieve great things by themselves, no matter how talented they are.  They can’t even achieve small things all by themselves…

I remember my first important leadership job.  The first day, as I entered my office, I realized that, no matter how good I am, we will fail if the entire team doesn’t galvanize and collaborate toward the same goals.  It was a scary feeling.  Until that point I could, through personal actions, compensate for failures within my team.  But this time the team was simply too big, and I didn’t have the complete skill set to energize them and enable them to do their job.

I believe this is what Jobs is saying here.  Accept you’re dependent on others, no matter how successful and effective you are, and find ways to inspire them to be their best.

4. “SOMETIMES WHEN YOU INNOVATE, YOU MAKE MISTAKES.  IT IS BEST TO ADMIT THEM QUICKLY, AND GET ON WITH IMPROVING YOUR OTHER INNOVATIONS”.

In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers:  “You got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them”.  

Bankers are notoriously bad in acknowledging mistakes.  It might be ingrained in their risk mitigation nature.  We are loath to cut the cord early.  We keep trying, adjusting, changing team composition, even though we know in our hearts we are failing and throwing good money after bad.  In our quest to ensure no mistakes we gather too much information and make too few decisions.

We should all learn from the High Tech industry, where the motto is “fail early”.  Ready, aim, shoot, aim, shoot, aim, shoot – instead of ready, ai, ready, aim, ready aim.

5. YOUR WORK IS GOING TO FILL A LARGE PART OF YOUR LIFE, AND THE ONLY WAY TO BE TRULY SATISFIED ISTO DO WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS GREAT WORK.  AND THE ONLY WAY TO DO GREAT WORK IS TO LOVE WHAT YOU DO.  IF YOU HAVE’NT FOUND IT YET, KEEP LOOKING.  DON’T SETTLE.  AS WITH ALL MATTERS OF THE HEART, YOU’LL KNOW WHEN YOU FIND IT”.

There is great wisdom in these words, but it’s hard to follow.  Our passions change as we evolve throughout life, and the Millennials accept that readily.  The rest of us still cling to the elusive idea that the work we love will present itself eventually, and some give it up altogether.  As Jobs says, this is so much like marriage…

My “version” of this wisdom is perhaps less far-reaching:  compromise initially as you seek your passion, because it is often through experiences that you find what you’re looking for.  Try different organizations and positions until the right one strikes a chord in your heart.  This strategy is risky, because job hopping has its limits, but the principle is clear.

6. INNOVATION DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN A LEADER AND A FOLLOWER.

One can’t be a leader without initiating change.  It’s easy to do when things aren’t going well, but when everything is great, change is more difficult to accept.  And yet, evolution and innovation are essential to any organization’s survival and prosperity.  

This idea is especially interesting in the context of community banking, where so many of us foster the “close follower” model.  I’m not sure size determines innovation ability, and whether a “close follower” is a viable strategic position.

7. BOTTOM LINE IS, “I DIDN’T RETURN TO APPLE TO MAKE A FORTUNE.  I’VE BEEN VERY LUCKY IN MY LIFE AND ALREADY HAVE ONE.  WHEN I WAS 25, MY NET WORT WAS $100 MILLION OR SO.  I DECIDED THEN THAT I WASN’T GOING TO LET IT RUIN MY LIFE.  THERE’S NO WAY YOU COULD EVER SPEND IT ALL, AND I DON’T VIEW WEALTH AS SOMETHING THAT VALIDATES MY INTELLIGENCE”.

Someone once told me that I look at everything from the perspective of a winner, which limits my ability to understand others.  When I read this quote I thought, “This is written from the perspective of the incredibly rich, and it doesn’t apply to the rest of us mortals who have to toil for our bread”.

I can see why Jobs felt, after his first $100 million, that he didn’t need further validation or even more money.  I don’t see that freedom amongst most working people, even if they managed to amass some wealth.  The lesson I take from these words is slightly different: “Don’t let your financial gains (and my addition – other professional accomplishments) define who you are.”  We are individuals first, and we should build our own scorecard for what matters to us.  It is that scorecard that should guide how we spend our time, mindshare and money, not someone else’s yardstick.

It is hard to be intentional about your goals and aspirations, as well as what truly matters to you in life.  Jobs’ verbal legacy speaks to that aspect of our life, though, by urging us all to focus on what matters and reach for our dreams.

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FOOD NOTES

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