“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.” Known as an innovator by some, a business genius by others (and a deity by many), Steve Jobs leaves a narrative rarely seen in history. As his quote above says, he never thought small, but lived life with his legacy at the forefront of every major decision he made.
As many entrepreneurs dream to be the next Steve Jobs, I thought it would be fitting to honour this great entrepreneur by highlighting some of his greatest quotes that may help other current and future entrepreneurs. Rather than add my own words (and potentially diminish the nuggets of wisdom), I will merely add context to these quotes that hopefully inspire all of us to “stay hungry” and to “stay foolish.”
1. “A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.” – Business Week 2003
At the brink of the global recession immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Steve Jobs introduced the iPod to the world. Many of us remember the impact the iPod made in listening to music, but few realise the risks involved in introducing such a revolutionary piece of technology during such a dismal economic environment. In the following year, the Dow Jones dropped 22 percentage points and businesses began laying people off. Apple was not immune to the recession with quarterly profits falling in mid 2002. Apple responded by laying off some employees, but refusing to layoff any employees in its engineering and product development departments and rather continued hiring in those departments. In subsequent years, Apple went on to release the iPod mini, the Nano, the iPod Photo, and the iPod Shuffle.
2. “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” – Inc. Magazine’s “The Entrepreneur of the Decade” Interview, 1989
It’s amazing how such a popular quote is so hard to source. However, knowing the context of the quote adds a bit of insight to this simple concept. Here, Steve Jobs is being interviewed as the Entrepreneur of the Decade for Inc. Magazine. In response to the question of where do great products come from, Steve Jobs is quick to point out that they come from the melding of two points of views: the customer’s and technology’s. With so much time being invested in developing a great product and with technology moving so fast, developing a product for the here and now will be a year too late by the time the product is ready. Makes perfect sense when you think about it.
3. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs, the Journey is the Reward, biography by Jeffrey S. Young (1988)
Taken from an early biography of Steve Jobs, this quote is taken from one of his twelve “Rules to Success.” Although a popular quote, this quote is sandwiched in between “focus on your outcome” and “advertise.” Not quite sure how these three are integrated into one single rule of success, but if Steve Jobs used it as one of his twelve rules, then surely it’s something to worth believing.
4. “This is not a one-man show. What’s reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there’s a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they’re not losers. What they didn’t have was a good set of coaches, a good plan. A good senior management team. But they have that now.” – Interview with Business Week, May 12, 1998
After returning to become the CEO of Apple in 1997 and introducing the iMac, Steve Jobs gave an interview to Business Week. In the midst of the interview, Steve Jobs was challenged about the meaning of his return to the company. Rather than brushing it off by giving a cliche, Steve Jobs responded with some insight about business management: surrounding yourself with talent and exuding confidence.
5. “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.” – Commencement Speech at Stanford University, 2005
This quote comes directly from one of his three stories he shares with the graduates at Stanford University. In this story, Steve Jobs explains how he dropped out of Reed College, but continued attending classes at the college. In an odd twist of fate, Steve Jobs found himself attending calligraphy courses and learning about the art of writing. He learned about san serif and serif typefaces and how spacing between letters matter, but none of this really mattered at that time. Little did he know that these dots would later be the foundation of computer font design a decade later when he developed the Macintosh computer with, as he said, the first “beautiful typography” ever seen in a computer (Microsoft eventually copied these multiple typefaces and character spacing from the original Macintosh computer).
Later on in his speech, he encourages the graduates with this: “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.”