On Having the Courage to Persevere
I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. It is so hard and you pour your life into this thing, there are such rough moments in time that most people give up. And I don’t blame them, it’s really tough. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs knew a thing or two about perseverance. In 1975 when he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak ran out of money developing their first computer, he sold his VW van for $750 (Wozniak sold his graphing calculator for $500). On being fired from the company he co-founded in 1985, he said it was “the best thing that ever happened to me”. He led a team that made “insanely great products”, but there were still misses.
Jobs’ ability to persevere through the tough times undoubtedly had its roots in a trip to India in 1974 aged just 19, the year before he founded Apple. The trip was triggered by a growing interest in Eastern spiritualism and played a crucial role in Apple’s development, providing Jobs with a clear sense of purpose and a belief that “we are here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else are we here?”.
In 1980, this translated into Apple’s purpose statement “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind”. It’s easy to forget that back then, Apple was an outlier, an oddball company that made weird incompatible products used only by a small number of people. Competition was producing large mainframe computers that required expertise in programming to use. Jobs, seeking to democratise technology and the way information was distributed described the Apple personal computer as a “bicycle for the mind”.
When Facebook hit a tough patch in the early days, Mark Zuckerberg reveals how his mentor Jobs suggested he needed to “reconnect with what I believed was the mission of the company” by visiting the Kainchi Dham Ashram in Northern India (where Jobs had visited in 1974). Spending almost a month in India, in 2008, Zuckerberg saw the way people connected, which made him appreciate that the world would be a better place if everyone had a stronger ability to connect. The trip reinforced his purpose and what he was trying to achieve with Facebook.
In a recent article for HBR, the authors describe purpose as “ your brand, what you’re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick. It’s who you can’t help being”.
Purpose is not what you do, it’s how you do your job and why – the strengths and passions you bring to the table no matter where you’re seated. Although you may express your purpose in different ways in different contexts, it’s what everyone close to you recognises as uniquely you and would miss most if you were gone.
Purpose is not a jargony catch-all (“empower my team to achieve exceptional business results while delighting our customers”). It is specific and personal, resonating with you and you alone. It doesn’t have to be aspirational or cause-based (“save the whales” or “feed the hungry”). And it’s not what you think it should be – it’s who you can’t help being, which might not be all that flattering (“be the thorn in people’s side that keeps them moving!”).
An organisation’s purpose statement is not its vision (that’s what it wishes to be in some years time), or its mission (that describes what business it’s in now and in the future). The purpose statement describes what an organisation is doing for someone else. It expresses the organisation’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients – whomever it is trying to serve. It motivates people to do good work, because it connects them to a higher purpose, something beyond themselves.
Steve Jobs was able to get through the rough moments and lead Apple to become one of the most valuable companies of all time, not because he had super-human levels of perseverance, but because he had the type of passion and energy that is only present when working for a greater purpose, when we sense that the only reason we’re here is to put a dent in the universe.
This applies whether you’re the oddball outlier taking on the big guns in your industry, or a woman of courage going against the tide – the universe is here to be dented.