Putting a Dent in the Universe

This developer career blog has covered a lot of topics related to programming skills. But I haven't addressed one of the most important components of career success: passion. And who better to turn to for advice about generating enthusiasm than Steve Jobs?

I've been reading Carmine Gallo's book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, because of the obvious motivation: I want to improve my presentation skills. To my happy surprise, Gallo also makes a few brilliant observations about leadership that I believe can help any programming team lead, IT manager, or CIO. Primary among them is the importance of passion about what you and your team are doing. I haven't even finished reading the book, yet, and I want to share this with you.

One element in a successful presentation (whether to the board of directors or to your staff) is, as Gallo describes it, to speak with passion, enthusiasm, and energy. Behind Jobs' charisma is a messianic sense of purpose. "Communicators such as Steve Jobs and [Starbuck's] Howard Schultz are passionate about how their products improve the lives of their customers," writes Gallo.

Jobs convinced his programmers that they were changing the world together, points out Gallo, making a moral choice against Microsoft and making people's lives better. For example, the iPod was never just another MP3 player, but a way to bring music back into people's lives. "It's a wonderful thing," said Jobs in 2003. "And in our own small way, that's how we're going to make the world a better place."

Such people create loyalty and user dedication because they talk about things that are more important than money. Despite our cynicism, people really do want to participate in something that's larger than they are, and to believe that their actions can improve the world. Gallo cites research by the authors of Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which concluded that individuals are inspired by core values and a sense of purpose beyond just making money. If you're thinking in terms of improving your skills at PowerPoint you likely think of those individuals as the people to whom you must sell — customers and users in other company departments. But the advice applies equally to the staff you lead. If your team shares your passion and your vision, you may create inspiring products... even if that's just the greatest accounts payable web application the world has known.

Maybe you think that your IT team's products aren't quite as important. (Though if Apple had positioned the iPod as "just another MP3" player, it wouldn't have been such a game-changer, either.) Don't sell yourself short. As Gallo eloquently writes, "Most of us are selling a product or working on a project that has some benefit to the lives of our customers. . . You have a magnificent story to tell. Dig deep to identify that which you are most passionate about. Once you do, share that enthusiasm with your listeners. People want to be moved and inspired, and they want to believe in something. Make them believe in you."

Steve Jobs said: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?” Why indeed?