Steve Jobs: how to do the impossible

It was the comeback of the century. 30 year old Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985. And in 1997, he made a comeback as he was made the interim CEO for Apple again – after Apple had acquired his company NeXT.

But he had a tall job ahead as Apple was in shambles and struggling for survival. Jobs immediately cut the product line and focused on only building those products that people love. He was ruthless in execution.

But the Apple stock price was tumbling. Jobs knew that his actions would take time to bear fruit. And the falling stock price would make things more difficult. It would be harder to attract talent. And to get loans at a good rate. It could also make Apple a prime takeover target by some vultures on Wall Street. Jobs had to fix the stock price before he could fix the company.

So Jobs does a crazy thing. He calls his rival Bill Gates. And gets Apple’s biggest competitor – Microsoft – to invest $150 million and buy Apple stock! 

“I’ve never found anybody that didn’t want to help me if I asked them for help.” – Steve Jobs

It wasn’t the first time Jobs had called a Bill and asked for help. When Jobs was just a 12 year old kid, he had called another famous Bill: Bill Hewlett – the cofounder of Hewlett Packard. Jobs was building a frequency counter but didn’t have a lot of money to buy all the parts for it. So he opened the Yellow Pages and found Bill Hewlett’s number. And calls him and asks if he had any spare parts that Jobs could use in his project!

Hewlett loved Jobs chutzpah. He not only sent him the parts, he also gave 12 year old Jobs a summer job on the HP assembly line!

It’s the ability of Steve Jobs to just ask for what he wanted, that made his dreams come true.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that’s what separates the people who do things from the people who just dream about them.” – Steve Jobs

So why don’t most people ask?

Most people don’t ask because they want to protect their pride. They are afraid of rejection. They are afraid of what others will think about them. And so… they do nothing. They remain in their comfort zone because they are afraid of negative consequences.

This fear of rejection stems from ego. Your ego keeps you back. 

So what can you do? As Osho says: “love and ego cannot be together. If light is there, darkness cannot be. If love is there, ego cannot be.”

Ego is focusing energy on yourself and your worth. Change the direction of the energy away from yourself. Focus it externally. Love something more than yourself!

Only if you can set aside your ego and focus on the task – can you push yourself to go beyond fear of rejection and potential embarrassment.

Steve Jobs was ruthless and difficult to work with. But he loved building great products. He could keep his ego aside and face potential rejection – because he was driven to build beautiful products.

This setting aside of your ego is a difficult thing. It may even sound woo-woo. But if you manage to focus on what you are trying to achieve instead of how you may feel, you will be able to ask for help with ease.

What’s the best way to frame your ask?

Here is the beauty of how Steve Jobs convinced Bill Gates to actually open his wallets and save his competition. 

  1. He started by acknowledging that Microsoft had done a great job.
  2. He added value by allowing Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser to become the default browser on all Mac computers. And agreed to settle their patent lawsuits.
  3. And then he asked for help: buy $150 million of Apple stock!

That’s a great framework. Acknowledge, add value, and then ask! 

What if you don’t have anything worthwhile to bring to the table that can add value? An implicit value addition is always there: because people feel good about themselves when they can help others. That’s what got Bill Hewlett to help a 12 year old boy! So ask with confidence!

Action Summary:

  • Asking is the most important skill you can learn to achieve your dreams. To ask without hesitation, you need to forget your ego and love your task. 
  • Start your ask with gratitude, and then try to add value. But push forward with your ask even if you don’t have anything of value to give in return.