Connect Your Dots – A lesson from Steve Jobs

Back in 2005 Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech to the graduating students at Stanford University. He told three stories. His first was about what he called ‘connecting the dots’.


He spoke about how when he was young he dropped out of college, which gave him the opportunity to drop-in on courses that he was interested in.


He remembered that throughout the college campus every poster and label on every drawer was beautifully hand-calligraphed, so he decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do it himself.


There was no practical relevance or opportunity at the time for Jobs to use his new calligraphy skills. But ten years later, when he and his friend Steve Wozniak were designing the first Macintosh computer, the dots joined up. Calligraphy was designed into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.


If Jobs had not dropped in on that course in college, the Mac would not have had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. Jobs went on to say, “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.


You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”


This is a thought provoking speech and well worth watching for a dose of inspiration.


We are often inspired by speeches like this, yet we don’t apply their lessons to our own lives. Don’t leave your unique mix of skills and experience at the door when you get to work in the mornings. Whatever your job role, you bring a much more varied experience to the role than your job title indicates.


Inspired by Jobs, I was recently giving some thought to how some of my experiences join up and impact on the work that I currently do.


  • Years ago I had a weekend job at Blockbuster video. Their business relied on people going to the video store to purchase films. They were not quick enough to respond to the changing marketplace. They were disrupted by both Lovefilm and Netflix; business models that enable people to have on-demand movies without leaving the comfort of their sofa. The Blockbuster store I worked in closed down. This was my first retrospective lesson in innovation.


  • I took a degree in Textile Design, and when I graduated I worked as a designer. It wasn’t long before I quit my job in design due to a moral issue regarding toxicity testing on children’s products. Quitting gave me the opportunity to try a fundraising role and opened up a career that I didn’t even know existed until then.


  • I worked at a big travel company in their customer service team. I was shouted at for six hours a day, five days a week by angry customers who, for one reason or another, had had a rubbish holiday experience. I hated the job. But it taught me many things, in particular that if you solve a complaint for a customer (or a supporter) they can become your biggest advocate.


Spend some time thinking about how your experiences join up and what impact they have had the on the work that you currently do. You might be surprised. And most importantly, keep following your curiosity and intuition! Build on your experiences, because that will continue to enhance the work that you do – even if, like Jobs you are not quite sure how yet. Trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

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