The Legacy of Steve Jobs: Why After 10 Years It Still Makes Sense to “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”

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Today, we credit Steve Jobs for serving a pivotal role in creating one of the most prominent companies, Apple. Many modern entrepreneurs have been able to learn from him the importance of taking large risks. Back in the day, smartphones seemed ridiculous. Today, it seems ridiculous that smartphones were thought to be ridiculous just some countable years back.

But perhaps a more interesting lesson that Steve Jobs leaves us with is the notion of “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” a saying he explains in his Stanford Commencement Speech, which he gave some ten years ago. But what does he mean? And how does this saying still prove to be relevant one decade later? Here are three ways Steve Jobs’s words still make sense.

1. Refrain from complacency and always maintain ambition

From simply looking at denotation, Jobs uses the word “hungry” to represent the kind of drive that budding entrepreneurs have when they are just getting started – the grind or grit, so-to-speak. It is common knowledge that sometimes when entrepreneurs make it, they tend to become complacent and lose the grit that they employed to get to the very place they are at.

Jobs encourages all entrepreneurs to never be satisfied with anything that they do. He shares the idea that it is important to continue to push forward with the pretense that there is an improvement, however minute, to be made, and that maintaining a state of ambition will allow you to constantly pay close attention to your ideas, products, and services and continue to think of innovative ways to improve them, regardless of how minute such changes would theoretically be.

2. Push the boundaries of possibility

In entrepreneurship, chances are those who end up changing the world have been criticized on their way up. Jobs underscores the importance of pushing the boundaries of what was previously believed to be possible. In this judgment and likewise in many others, he was way ahead of his time.

As we know, Elon Musk, the man at the helms of both SpaceX and Tesla, never spoke of his own entrepreneurial journey of one of smooth-sailing. In an interview he granted 60 Minutes, Elon responds to the fact that many of his role models in aviation did not believe in his vision.

Beyond Elon, who tackles problems that are difficult even today, Alibaba, a renowned e-commerce giant based out of China, faced similar issues at its own humble beginnings. Founder Jack Ma, now a multi-billionaire and renowned Chinese business leader, recounts, “I felt lonely when I started working in the Internet business in China around 1995. Nobody believed in me.”

Even Steve Jobs himself faced similar criticisms in his own time as he innovated smartphones. It is important to recognize the notion that good ideas are not always perceived immediately to be good ideas, which are likely to undergo trials and tribulations before they are either proven or disproven.

Jobs encourages entrepreneurs to seek out whether their ideas are good, not to give into harsh criticism, which commonly weighs down heavily on budding entrepreneurs especially.

3. Inexperience can sometimes fuel creative capacity…but that doesn’t mean you can stay inexperienced

In Jobs’s words, “stay foolish,” he does not intend to advice entrepreneurs to venture into a field that they are completely uninformed about. It relates back to the first point of not being complacent, that it is important to continue to learn regardless of how much knowledge one has about a particular subject matter. But beyond this, I also believe that Steve intends to convey the notion that sometimes a lack of experience in a particular field can actually serve a positive impact in terms of fueling one’s creative capacities.

In fact, billionaire Naveen Jain also believes in this idea.

He also believes that inexperience could sometimes be beneficial as far as having curiosity for a subject; at the same time, he does remind us, just as Musk does, that it is important to understand that though being initially inexperienced can serve a positive impact in allowing entrepreneurs to think more freely, it is imperative that one strives to thoroughly investigate whichever field they are venturing into.

This is to say that there is a fundamental difference between lack knowledge and making a ridiculous claim, and being very well-read in a field and making a speculation that goes against the status quo.

The main difference lies in the fact that one who lacks domain expertise will only be able to make an assertion and never be able to prove or disprove said assertion.

Be Persistent, but not ignorant

This difference becomes especially important when one is told “your idea is stupid” – a knowledgeable entrepreneur will be able to provide concrete evidences for why doubters are incorrect whereas mere speculators would lack an adequate response. Empirically, novel change-makers have been deemed ridiculous or some lexiconic equivalent, but at times, that’s the value of being well-informed – perhaps you’re seeing something that nobody else is – and that’s a common characteristic of all the biggest change-makers. Again, nobody hedged big bets on Elon Musk at the beginnings or Tesla or SpaceX, but now we’re starting to see that these ventures are more than ones that make sense.

Now, this is not to say that you should be ignorant. By all means, you should vet your ideas to as many seasoned professionals as you can, and should take everyone’s opinions into consideration.

So you can’t always be a listener and follower if you want to be a successful entrepreneur. But at the same time, you don’t know what you don’t know so it’s important to continue to learn, regardless of your existing academic capacities. It is essential to approach learning as a lifelong endeavor, one that surely extends beyond the scope of school and one that pushes you towards possibly being a contrarian. Only then can you begin to internalize the possibility of changing the world in ways that people in the modern day cannot begin to fathom.

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