Paul C. Williams

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Stay Foolish. Hungry is helpful too.

Perhaps no man has affected the way we conceive of leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation more than Steve Jobs. His oft-quoted phrase given during the commencement address in 2005 to Stanford University grads "Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish" is usually interpreted to be an admonishment to be relentless in the search for users, buyers and funding. I think this misses the mark in a very profound way, and minimizes the true genius of the statement.

Stay Foolish

In Triumph of the Nerds, the famous PBS documentary about the foundations of the computer revolution, Robert X. Cringley relates the story of Apple 2 computer. Jobs had an idea to build and sell a packaged personal computer.  "Steve Jobs's dream was impossible. It needed too many chips, making the product too complicated and expensive to build. But [Steve] Woz[niak] didn't know it was impossible."

This is not a unique spin on innovation. Real progress is made only when unshackled from the constraints of common thinking, yet grounded in a set of real world problems.

Foolishness is an amazing trait. By letting go of what we think we know, we open the door to possibilities yet to be imagined that would be otherwise cloaked in what we perceive as impossible.

Stay Hungry

I believe this part to be advice to avoid becoming complacent. Success itself does not breed additional successes, rather a small success enables a larger success and so on until the world is changed. This is not unlike the flywheel effect described by Jim Collins in Good to Great. It is a deliberate effort to build on what has come before.

So the real quote ought to be "Stay Foolish; Stay Hungry", but that sounds like advice to keep feeding slot machines and eat only Top Ramen, so we switch it around and hope the meaning isn't lost.

Image credit: Tom Somnias

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