Advice to Aspiring Leaders–“Always follow truth”

Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple, sat down with Leaders In Editorial Content Manager Jordan Thorne after his Keynote speech at the Boston Innovation Festival this May 2019. Steve discusses risk taking in innovation, employee culture, advice for budding entrepreneurs–and what he thinks of Steve Jobs as a leader. See below for the full transcribed interview:


Interviewer: Hi my name is Jordan Thorne,  I’m the Editorial Content Manager here at FEI TV. We’re here at the Boston Innovation Festival and I’m joined by Steve Wozniak–Co-founder of Apple. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Steve: Great to be here with you Jordan

Interviewer: I just wanted to jump in and start with asking you about how important risk-taking is in innovation and how can a company or leader cultivate this in their employee culture?

Steve: Well there are actually variations of risk but almost always you’re doing something that’s unknown whether you’re going to be successful or not. If you’re a start-up, one of the things is you have to go convince other people just to raise money if you want to be big. But a lot of people just do it in their homes, in their garages, on their own and boy you have to be the sort of person who would take a risk.
If you weren’t taking a risk everybody in the world knows the exact same things that would say–be the next step in technology and make a new product–No it’s the ones that are gonna astound the world. You know everything– you never expected search engines you know and and personal computers and iPhones and a whole bunch of different categories you almost come out of the out-of-the-box thinking is the things that really change our lives. Not the things that you’re taking no risk at all.
Now once you’re a big company you kind of organize things with all your money and resources to take very little risk, but the world really  changes because of risk takers and startups and entrepreneurs who think, “I have no idea, I don’t even know if it’s possible technically or I don’t even know if it’s gonna be successful or change the world.”  I’ll bet on it and sometimes you’re wrong. That’s all so much risk-taking and that really is what brings us to new things that didn’t exist, new elements of our economy, new foundation companies. That’s where new wealth is created and it’s not just replacing older wealth or just taking the next step. It’s not
like every other company. Those are the things that bring us more in life
Interviewer: Fantastic. So I think that leads me very well into my next question. What advice do you have for those with an idea in their head but maybe you don’t
know how to go about turning that idea into something that’s actually tangible.
Steve: Um, well different people have different levels of communication–extroversion, introversion. Some are on social web. First of all talk with your friends in small settings and then talk in even bigger settings. Express your idea and see if it starts catching on.  Now if you’re afraid, “Oh I’m gonna be giving away an idea”,  well your idea would be too obvious anyway. A lot of people would figure it out. Generally, if you’re taking a risk big risk, you’re doing something so new nobody knows the outcome. People really aren’t gonna start jumping in the exact same direction.
With with our personal computers, all the big computer companies who knew everything said it’s never going to be anything. It’s little hobbyists never going to impact business. So a lot of times you don’t know and you have to be the one who takes the risk. You can fail. You can take risks.  You can have a great idea and it
can change the world but not enough and it still fails.
Interviewer: So i’m curious to know, obviously you worked with Steve Jobs and I wanted to know what you thought about his leadership qualities. What about him made him a good leader and what made him maybe a poor leader?
Steve: He was fast-moving. He wanted to be the leader. He put himself in that position more than he was just admired for it accidentally. No, he absolutely wanted to be seen that way. Your wants in life are more important than your skills. Things that you want are the things you achieve, even in products.  I mean I taught in public elementary schools for eight years of my life, no press allowed. A little secret I found out, it was less important what I taught–it was more important I made the students want to learn. If they enjoyed it–and fun is a big part of this. So wanting things, having an end goal in sight, you find the path to get there– if it’s a strong desire. Now for Steve Jobs, being a leader was his strong desire.
Interviewer: Yeah great answer. So I know you’ve done a lot of work since leaving Apple educating kids through philanthropy. One example being Camp Woz, where you empowered youth’s to find their strengths by exposing them to technology-based learning. So how do you think these kinds of programs targeting
kids at the developmental stage really helped prepare upcoming generations to meet the demands they’ll face in the workplace and beyond?
Steve:  I believed my whole life that the foundations of our society and our abilities all start when we’re very young and starts in school. Now you know school is a little bit redundant in the day of search engines and all that, and the internet. But still, motivating students to want to think differently and be creative. One of the
things that we leave out of our standard education–we teach the same subjects we always thought and we teach them the same ways. The way education is done
hasn’t really changed, yet everybody says “It has to, it has to– we have to be goal-oriented or you know we have to come up with kids who think for themselves. We have to get rid of grades so they don’t get turned off at an early age.”
All those things just don’t happen. So a lot of it is outside of schools. Voluntary helpers can come in and set-up projects. I believe that learning, strangely enough electronics, technology and computers–digital technology hardware and software–is so exciting to some people.  It’s not right for everybody. The world doesn’t need 100% of us to be digital experts and be able to design computers. The world doesn’t need 100% of us to know about history either or mathematics. You know really there’s the sort of jobs that make society work well or spread out.
So the people should have a chance to discover this computer stuff, “I’m good at it. I want to do it for my life.” That should be a strong curriculum not just one class throughout high school– that’s ridiculous. It should really be a strong curriculum because, what comes about from it is a lot of clear thinking. You have to have this happens and that happens, and you go back and correct things and fix them up.  You learn a lot more about real life through that, then you do about memorizing the
capitals of all 50 states.
Interviewer: Completely agree.  So you know, how important do you feel that mentorship is to developing good leaders. I know you’ve always sort of been a doer in your own right.  Have you ever had a mentor that really impacted your career?
Steve: I didn’t really have much of a mentor. My career kind of evolved from early school days when I was very shy and didn’t really talk to others.  My mentor might have been any books or anything. My own thinking. My brain was my mentor. I did have some in high school. I had an incredible teacher who wrote his own lessons– didn’t use a book and was an electronics teacher. He had more electronics equipment than any of the local colleges and he’d built it up by clever approaches to getting a bit at a time by working with industry outside of the school. He said, “Education is not all in the school.” Mr. McCollum, he was an
incredible mentor. Steve Jobs had him also, and a lot of other great people.
My father was a great mentor because he mentored me, not only on engineering. When I had a question, he didn’t ever put his values on us and say, “You should be an engineer like me,” otherwise my brother and sister would have been engineers. No he just said, “You choose for yourself here’s what things are in the world and
here’s how you make your choices. That’s good education. So I’ve always believed that education is the key. To this day I wish we had more of this digital “give a goal”– here’s a goal, you find the ways to achieve it. We will have some courses in our school that will give you some of the techniques. But you’ll have all the books and be able to do it on your own, because when somebody starts going on their own–wow–this is mine. This is my creation and I want to show it off. The excitement drives you to much greater results than otherwise.
Interviewer:  Yeah. And just to finish off–What would be one piece of advice that you could offer an aspiring leader or entrepreneur?
Steve: Hopefully you’re young–young enough to have a lot of mental capacity and physical capacity. To think out your personal goals for the company, the future culture of your company and have an idea what is right and wrong. How do I want to be in life? Do I want to be nice and well-liked? Do I want to be real tough
and disciplined? You should have that personality well-formulated and know who you are inside. That’s a type of truth. Also, always follow truth. If you see a better way to do something acknowledge it. Go that way and be willing to be flexible and change. Even though your idea is good, it might not be good enough.
Interviewer: Yeah fantastic. Well thank you so much for speaking with us, it’s been lovely.
Steve: Yes my pleasure.

 

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