What Jobs Taught Me about the Value of Failure

Article excerpt

Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Take risks. And whatever you do, don't be afraid to fall.

On a sunny California morning in June 2005, my friends and I ran into the Stanford stadium for graduation. As part of the university's irreverent "wacky walk," we'd decorated our regalia with green inner tubes, floppy sombreros, and Mardi Gras beads. On the grass, we waved to our parents, brandished squirt guns, and batted beach balls around.

We were ready to be proud of finishing college and stepping out into adulthood. We were ready to celebrate our accomplishment--the first, we believed, of many to come. We were ready to hear about the great future that lay ahead.

We were not ready for Steve Jobs's speech.

Jobs was not a rousing orator. He looked nervous as he approached the podium. As he spoke, though, his voice gained the strength of someone who knows that what he's saying is both true and very important. And something unusual happened: we all started paying attention.

We still are. Six years later, those of us in the stadium that morning still talk about what he said. Jobs, who stepped down as Apple's CEO in August, passed away Oct. 5. Within minutes of both announcements, my Facebook newsfeed lit up with videos of the speech and comments posted by fellow alums.

Until recently, I thought that his speech resonated uniquely with my class. But when I reread it, I realized that it might have even more to say to students today, and to their families. What made Jobs's speech so unusual, and so lasting, is that at a moment when everyone wanted to talk about success, he told us about failure. Or at least he told us about experiences we'd normally call failures. He failed an awful lot, and not in small ways.

But what's interesting is what Jobs did with those failures. He learned from them, and he used them to make himself better. He audited calligraphy classes that became the basis of Apple's fonts. …