10 Years After Steve Jobs’ Death, This Is Still the Most Important Lesson He Taught Us



Apple’s founder, and former CEO, Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer on October 5, 2011. During his life, and especially during his time leading Apple, he became iconic for his attention to detail, his sense of product design, and his ability to communicate and connect with an audience. 

His 2007 keynote introducing the iPhone is still maybe the most effective product launch ever. His “one more thing,” phrase became synonymous with Apple’s presentation style. Young leaders can learn a lot watching Jobs speak to an audience. 

Jobs’ no-nonsense style also gave us plenty of great quotes about business, marketing, and life. He changed the way countless entrepreneurs think about designing products, for example.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” said Jobs. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Whether you think the customer is always right, or that the customer has no idea what they want, it’s hard to deny that Jobs influenced the thinking of a generation of entrepreneurs.

There is, however, a more important lesson that Jobs taught us, and it’s not about building great products. It’s about connecting dots. 

“It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college,”  Jobs said during his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. Like several other famous founders, Steve Jobs never graduated from college. In fact, during that same speech, Jobs quipped that it was “the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” 

And yet, Jobs believed that dropping out of college was one of the dots that formed a part of the path he followed through life. He just couldn’t see it at the time.

Of course, he may not have ever started Apple if he’d not dropped out of college. Even that, however, didn’t go according to plan. It was less than 10 years after starting the company with Steve Wozniak, that Jobs was fired by Apple’s board. 

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” said Jobs. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Jobs went on to start NeXT. During that time, he also acquired the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, and named it Pixar. He would later sell Pixar to Disney, becoming that company’s largest shareholder.

NeXT would later be bought by Apple when the latter company struggled to deliver its own operating system. That led to his return to Apple, eventually returning to the role as CEO. It wasn’t long before Apple introduced the iMac, then the iPod, and finally, the iPhone. That’s a pretty successful run for anyone.

That brings us back to the lesson about connecting dots. Here’s the full quote: 

It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

The lesson is pretty simple, which is that you can’t connect the dots looking forward. It’s almost impossible to be able to tell how every dot will connect to the next when you’re standing here today. 

Of course, looking back, it becomes far easier to see how everything connects. It becomes clear how one thing led to another, even when it seemed like the end of the line at the time.

Sometimes the dot you’re standing on will seem like the final period on the sentence of your legacy, but that’s almost never the case. You can look back right now and see how things have connected to bring you to where you are today. And this dot will become just another in the path your life is taking.

The point is that you have to trust that the dots will connect, even if you don’t know precisely where they’re leading. Your story isn’t over. Just keep connecting the dots. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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