What drove Steve Jobs?

In 1995 in the Lost Interview, Steve Jobs said that an article in Scientific American sparked his passion for building tools for humanity:

I read an article when I was very young, in Scientific American, and in it researchers measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on Earth. So, you know, bears, chimpanzees, racoons, fish…and humans were measured too.

How many kilocalories per kilometer did they spend to move?

The condor won. It was the most efficient. And mankind, the crown of creation, came with a rather unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list. But someone there had the brilliance of measuring a human riding a bicycle. Blew away the condor. All the way up the charts.

And I remember that this really had an impact on me. Humans are tool builders, and we build tools that can dramatically amplify our innate human abilities.

That’s why we ran an ad in the early days at Apple: the personal computer was the bicycle of the mind. I believe that with every bone in my body. The computer will, as history unfolds and we look back, rank at the top among all human inventions.

Despite this, people still doubt the value of science and science magazines. 

The beauty of a blank page

For a writer, a blank page can be one of the most intimidating things. If he spends 10,000 hours in becoming an expert writer, then a big chunk of it tends to be spent staring at a blank page (on the screen or otherwise).

Likewise, the first sentence of an article may be the sentence that gets rewritten the most. After all, that first sentence marks the birth of a piece of writing and the end of the frustrating existence of a blank page.

But underneath all this annoyance, there lies beauty. The blank page is a world of possibilities. Some may find that overwhelming, but I find it exhilarating.

To me a blank page is like giving a sculptor the perfect chunk of stone: What is to become of it he does not know but he surely is looking forward to the end product. He knows that the hours in the middle will be spent sweating over each stroke of his hammer on the chisel, but that is the process that makes him feel alive. When the masterpiece is complete, the world will shower him with praises (or criticisms). The sculptor may find some pleasure in that, but he will have already begun looking for the next piece of stone to sculpt.

And there lies the trick: Sometimes we forget that the blank page is not just the means to an end.

An experiment with delegation

I recently attended one of the best talks I have been to in Oxford. It was a talk by Felix Dennis of Dennis publishing. He is one of the most famous self-made billionaires in Britain. And to his credit he can do much more than just make money. He is a great poet, a philanthropist and in my opinion, a great orator.

At the talk, he spoke about his life story, some lessons that he has learnt and what he plans to do ahead. In question and answers he also gave a brief picture of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I was particularly impressed by an answer that he gave in response to a question of how to deal with employees. He said:

I am only really good at two things. First is recognising talent. I can say within a very short time whether someone is suitable for a certain task or not. Second is delegating. And by delegating I don’t mean giving work away to someone so that I don’t have to do it. What I mean is really delegating, letting that person handle the task on their own, giving them the space to work and making them understand the expectations I have of them. I’ve seen very few people delegate work effectively.

Although, I can say very little about recognising talent (which on occasions all of us do), there is something I can say about delegating. For any of us who has been in a position of responsibility (however big or small), where we lead a team to a complete a task, we will know that delegation is a really important aspect of the job. It requires us to understand the other person well enough to assign a particular task to them and to be able to ask them, in the most effective manner, to do that task for the team. In most cases, there is also a degree of trust that needs to be present

Looking at my previous experience with delegation, I realise that I am able to do it and to a certain degree well enough. And I say well enough because according to my definition (not Dennis’) delegation means getting someone who to do a certain thing for the team. In that regard, I have definitely managed to get a fair amount of work done.

But according to Dennis’ definition, I feel I have utterly failed at it. That’s because very rarely have I come across a piece of work that I have delegated and which has come back to me in a way that serves the set purpose best. I tend to feel that it could be done better or sometimes, that it would have been better had I done it.

Clearly, there is something I need to change about the way I delegate work. And I think after listening to that answer by Dennis, I realise that I can definitely improve on communicating my expectation of the task that I am about to delegate.


Delegation is important. Credits: pmtips.net

Here’s what I think I will do: when delegating a piece of work, I will ensure that I will give the person doing the job as much detail as possible about what I expect as the outcome of the job. After that, I will set a deadline for the task and then give them complete freedom to do it on their own. And at the end, I would request them to let me give them some constructive feedback about the task they just completed.

I think this in many ways should improve the quality of work that I receive on delegation. With this freedom, of course, there comes some added responsibility on the person doing the job. And I think that is what can serve as the true driving force of some quality work.

The feedback idea should also serve the purpose well because it then gives the person who has been delegated the task a chance to reflect upon what they have done and take in the feedback in much a better setting. Doing this at the end is advantageous, of course, because they don’t have the pressure to finish the task. Additionally, it is a better setting because interrupting someone while they are doing something is very inefficient (and I realise that because I have done it on some occasions).


Finding sources of motivation

Motivation to do something acts as that driving force which helps us through every phase of an activity. It gives us the energy to initiate the task, then to continue through its ups and downs, and finally also to bring it to an end.

Without the right amount of motivation, doing anything feels like dragging yourself down a road that you don’t want to walk. I am sure you can all relate to this feeling especially when as teenagers you were asked to do certain things by your parents without a good reason, for example cleaning your own room 😉

Additional motivation always help us to do something better or faster. Or at least that is what you feel happens when you feel that wee bit more motivated.

I don’t think I have to give you more reasons to convince you that motivation is an important factor in our everyday lives. I have spent quite some time in trying to understand this mysterious force with a wish to know how can I harness it better.

After speaking to many people about their source of motivation, I can conclude that almost always people have multiple sources of motivation. And it is not surprising that there are many common sources of motivation. We are all human after all. I’ll enlist a few:

Some positive sources: the desire to constantly improve (to be a better person, a better scientist, a better father or a better son), to achieve higher pleasures of life (happiness derived from completing a massive project, from helping someone or achieving a big goal)

Some negative sources: peer pressure (if she can do it, why not me? admittedly it can be a positive force sometimes), fear of failure (almost always bad and which causes so much anxiety).

Some of these sources may have struck a chord with you (like the one in the picture). And may be that after reading this short list you may not be surprised because they are very commonly the sources of motivation that many people use.

But my exploration has helped me find an additional source of motivation. One that I have used many a times unknowingly. That source of motivation comes from my constant quest to find a new source of motivation. It’s as if I treat my motivation to do something as drawing from a motivation bank. And because I treat it as a bank, I tend to look for sources that can replenish this bank.

And I don’t think I am alone in that quest, people seek new sources of motivation all the time. See for example what Alex says:

A friend told me that she had a three-tiered approach to motivation: First is motivation from the cause itself, but this is simply not enough to sustain motivation indefinitely in all situations, so the second layer was motivation from fun: the work itself should be enjoyable, but it’s just not possible to always make work fun, so the third tier was friendship: that you would work through tough times buoyed by friendship with colleagues and co-workers.

Have you got any sources of motivation that you could share with us?

What if you could control the drive within you?

Anything you do gets done faster and produces better results if you have the drive to do it. A drive that pushes you, that sets new limits and that forces you to seek new sources to power yourself.

When you see someone with that drive within themselves, you can immediately recognise it. They have a different persona: they are brimming with confidence, they bring great enthusiasm to the table and they make a difference to the people around them. Their work is a source of inspiration to their peers or to the generations to follow.

There may be many reasons for why you have the drive to do what you do. It may be because that thing is on your to-do list, or it might be something that you have wanted all your life, or anything in between. The drive might exist because of some fear that has been troubling you or because of that anxiety which you find unsettling. It could stem from a desire to take revenge or simply because of an inspiration to do something for your loved one.

Whatever may be the reasons, having the drive to do something is a powerful tool to be able to leverage. Not only does it give you an edge over your competitor but it also gives you a lot more pleasure in what you do. It makes you feel that the effort you put in to doing something is worth it. That drive enables you to overcome the pain to experience the joys.

Now here’s the million dollar question:

What if you could control your drive, turn it up when you want?

I don’t claim that I have the answer and to be frank, it will be hard to convince me that there is only one answer. Each individual will have their methods to crank up ‘the drive’ they possess. And I think it is good to have more than one absolute way of being able to create a powerful force within you which will help you achieve your goals.

I certainly have my multiple ways of generating that drive for myself. One that I would like to talk about today is the method of raising the bar or the method of trivialising the achieved.

Here is how it works: Say you have just achieved X and have now you set yourself a new goal Y. You can now generate that drive to do Y by reflecting upon your previous achievement, X. You find ways of convincing yourself why Y, if achieved, will be a bigger achievement than X. That is a perfectly sound reason for you to push yourself to achieve Y. At the same time you may also find aspects of X which you can consciously trivialise because now you have the skill/confidence to be able to do X again. For Y though, you will need new skills and extra confidence. Another reason for why you should go after Y given X has been achieved.

The drive generated by this method can be as strong as you want it to be. You will have to put in the effort to better reason for Y over X.

The biggest advantage of this method is that it can set in to motion a machine that generates ‘a drive’ for you. All you need to do is make sure you fuel it up when necessary. Fuelling the tank up shouldn’t be that hard, after all it is a simple trick that you consciously play with your own mind.

The success stories of our times

I’ve always loved reading the Readers’ Digest. Thanks to my mum and dad who have subscribed to it for the past twenty years. Apart from all the well-picked and topical articles, I always enjoyed reading their interviews. Recently, Suchitra sent me a link to an interview of Will Smith which was published in RD sometime ago. And after having read an RD interview after such a long time, I felt like reading more of them. I am sharing the most interesting bits of the interviews that I read:

Will Smith

RD: Have you ever thought about going back to college?
Smith: The things that have been most valuable to me I did not learn in school. Traditional education is based on facts and figures and passing tests — not on a comprehension of the material and its application to your life.

RD: Some would say there’s no reason to stay if a marriage isn’t good.
Smith: Once you say that, you’ve lost. With Jada, I stood up in front of God and my family and friends and said, “Till death do us part.”

RD: So getting to where you are is all just about running hard?
Smith: Most people you are going to be in competition with are not gonna give 100 percent.

RD: You work harder than the next guy?
Smith: I consider myself to be of basically average talent, right? What I have that other people do not have is a sick, obsessive, raw animal drive.

Jon Bon Jovi

RD: But then again you are always looking for new responsibilities.
JBJ: I never was one to rest on yesterday’s successes. I’m much more motivated to find new challenges.

RD: How do you feel today about your very first job selling women’s shoes? Is it something you’re ashamed of?
JBJ: Not at all

Michael J Fox

RD: You joke in your new book that you are fortunate to have married someone — actress Tracy Pollan — who is smarter and better looking than you. Do you think marital bliss boils down to that one choice: marrying the right person?
MJF:Obviously, that’s fundamental. But the key to our marriage is the capacity to give each other a break. And to realize that it’s not how our similarities work together; it’s how our differences work together. The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.

RD: Your last book, Always Looking Up, was about optimism. It’s the rare person who is as positive as you are. What’s your prescription for dealing with really negative, difficult people?
MJF: I think the scariest person in the world is the person with no sense of humor. I would say be patient with people who are negative, because they’re really having a hard time.

Hilary Swank

RD: Who instilled you with that belief in yourself?
Swank: My mom. She said, “You can do anything you want in life, Hilary, as long as you work hard enough. Don’t take no for an answer.” She didn’t want me to be afraid of taking life by the reins and making the most of it.

RD: There’s a lesson in that, right?
Swank: If you go into life with a good attitude, you’ll get more out of it.

Harrison Ford

RD: Your movies have grossed $3 billion. Is money all it’s cracked up to be?
Ford: Money is really only important if you don’t have any

Uma Thurman

Thurman: The purest relationship I have ever had, aside from with my children, is with my work. Whatever you give it, it gives you back double. That’s an unusual kind of relationship

RD: You’ve been at this for 20 years. Do you ever get tired of it?
Thurman: I’ve always approached work as a worker. Whatever it takes — endurance, discipline, practice, repetition, courage, working through it — I just have always been willing to pull myself up and try again. I’ve never taken success for granted.

Tom Cruise

RD: You’re lucky.
Cruise: I know.

Ok I admit these were all celebrity interviews. But I hope you enjoyed them nevertheless. 🙂