Steve Jobs is undoubtedly one of the most influential people of all time. Having started Apple in a time when smartphones seemed ridiculous, Jobs was by all means practically a man with a crystal ball. Steve said many interesting things, but perhaps the most profound of them all is “stay hungry, stay foolish,” as a part of Stanford University’s commencement speech back in 2005. Now, this saying is one of the most widely-recognized. So what does it mean?
“Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
1. Hard Work Lies Central to Success
Jobs uses the word “hungry” to represent the kind of drive that entrepreneurs have when they are just getting started. Particularly in the Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs are often blinded by investment. Take Juicero, for example, the producer of the $400 Wi-Fi enabled juicer that raised over $100 million USD and ended up shutting down. There’s no doubt that the founder of Juicero and his team were working hard to make the company work, but it does lend credence to the idea that money can’t solely make a company successful
Some entrepreneurs are oftentimes very hardworking at the initial stages, working 100-hour weeks and then start to slip once they achieve considerable success; they stop innovating, they stop grinding, and that’s when their business, in a competitive market, goes uncontrollably downhill.
And that’s why the only currency that really makes a company successful is the hard work that backs it. If entrepreneurs stop iterating, their failures are inevitable, regardless of funding situation. Money runs out fast; diligence is generally evergreen.
2. Push the boundaries.
Nobody who changed the world did what the world already knew. The first distinction is that not all successful entrepreneurs go on to change the world, but the first to commercialize the computer, the first to popularize the smartphone, etc. without a doubt did so with a fair share of criticism.
Elon Musk said in an interview he granted 60 Minutes that many of his role models in aviation did not believe in his vision. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba faced similar issues at its own humble beginnings. Founder Jack Ma recounts, “I felt lonely when I started working in the Internet business in China around 1995. Nobody believed in me.” Steve Jobs himself faced similar criticisms in his own time as he innovated smartphones.
As a general rule, new ideas can often be heavily criticized, but if your research is there and nobody has done what you’ve proposed (even more so if you’re young and have nothing to lose), then go out there and find out if your idea is actually stupid or not.
3. Inexperience in a field can (sometimes) be a benefit.
“Stay foolish,” doesn’t mean to venture into a field that one is completely uninformed about; it somewhat refers to the idea that sometimes a lack of experience in a particular field can actually serve a positive impact in terms of helping someone be more creative in their problem-solving.
But if someone is, say, an outsider to the biotech world but wants to create a company in the space, he/she should make hypotheses and actually test them out and iterate. That entrepreneur shouldn’t continue to be clueless – he/she should be diligently learning about the industry to prove or disprove their ideas, moving on accordingly.
Said outsider might have some sort of advantage over doctors/PhDs in the field in the sense that they’re subjected to concepts that have been proven by possibly centuries of work. Empirically, good entrepreneurs are well-read and often very educated, but they came to be because they thought differently from what they were taught. The idea is you’ll only be as good as your teachers and the books they used to do so if you don’t do any other kind of learning yourself.
4. Be Persistent, But Not Ignorant.
A huge problem that entrepreneurs have is that they don’t “fail fast”; they instead “fail slow.” It often takes hundreds of millions of dollars of funding later to figure out that an idea doesn’t have product-market fit. That shouldn’t be the case. If a business doesn’t work, figure that out quickly and move on. Nobody blames you for your failures…unless you take 10 years of fruitless work to show that out.
Entrepreneurs often have grand visions that never get realized. They treat their startup almost sanctimoniously and are often ignorant to advice because they’re hellbent on realizing the original vision they saw. Not listening to anyone is often a recipe for disaster especially if you’re starting out.
At first, nobody knows what to do with an idea, regardless of how persistent they are. People learn, they iterate, and they improve. This process often comes from mentors, who are far more experienced, people who help young entrepreneurs avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
At the same time, it is important for an entrepreneur to not listen to everything that other people tell them; going back to (2), people might tell you your idea is stupid when it really isn’t. Use your judgment to a particular extend. Oh also, people (often) love hearing your justification when you disagree on something fundamental (like what your business is).
These are the four underlying messages that Steve Jobs’s four words convey. I think they’re great and very instructive – they’re evergreen and still make a lot of sense even some 13 years later.
Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.