Stay Hungry,

Stay Foolish.

On June 14, 2005 a rebel, a misfit, a feisty nonconformist

…with the curiosity of a child and mind of a genius was invited to address the graduating class at Stanford, which is ironic given he was a college drop-out. When the iconic innovator, Steve Jobs finished his speech, his parting words were “stay hungry, stay foolish.”

We loved what he said because there is so much to unpack in that short, but powerful phrase. It should be the mantra for every leader who wants to forge a culture of innovation. Here’s why.

1. Hungry for Change

When you are hungry, really hungry, you are focused, determined, ambitious and flexible. You are willing to try things you normally wouldn’t try in order to satisfy your hunger. In the process you expand your palette to new flavors and new cuisines. What if you could create a culture like that? Leaders who are hungry are always asking: How do we inspire people to reach higher? How do we run the business better? How do we differentiate the business more? How do we grow the business faster?

You are only as good as your last piece of work.

Everyone and everything around you is constantly getting better. Technology waits for no one, a smarter, more demanding customer wants more (or less) and the world is constantly in search of visionary ideas.

Are you as HUNGRY, DETERMINED, FOCUSED today as you were 10 years ago?

If you’ve been in this business for more than 10 years are people saying: You’re one of the biggest, most youthful thinkers in the industry? Or are they saying: It’s time to move on?

“On the backside of a successful innovation people look like geniuses, but in the beginning they look like lunatics.”

2. Restlessness

Restlessness is often a shoulder tap that things need to change. Perhaps it is something in your personal life that needs to change in order for you to experience more joy and life. Maybe something needs to change in your approach to solving a problem that matters. Innovators pay attention to what’s “under the hood” of restlessness. The first step in knowing how something should change is understanding that it should change.

People who innovate are usually dissatisfied with being satisfied. They don’t lean on yesterday’s headlines and are often bored with best practices. They know that the best they will ever be replicating someone else’s best practice is a good number two. A somewhat constant state of agitation drives them to ask: What’s new? What’s next? They are enemies of the ordinary and the status quo.

Restlessness is a demeanor, a way of looking at the world and a way of being that creates NEXT practices.

3. Curious

Great innovators ask “What if?” and “Why?” and “Why not?”

Their insatiable curiosity draws them into a constant state of discovery. Always looking for ways to get smarter, better and faster, they are open-minded. These people are magnets for new ideas because their antennas are up and radars are always on. They are life long learners who know that a great idea will often come from unlikely people in unexpected places. Restlessness and curiosity feed off each other and push us to reach for what’s next.

Go watch your kids or grandkids. Count the number of times they ask questions. It’s a lot! And, they don’t just ask one question and become satisfied. They ask “why” three, four, or five times before they move on to a new quest. They are curious to the core because that’s how they grow and mature, right? Their egos don’t get in the way. They are wonderfully humble. Somewhere in the journey of growing up we stop asking questions because we want to prove to the world that we are smart and capable–that we know. Pride gets in the way and we trade curiosity for being correct. But humility and risk precede curiosity. Humility because you have to admit you don’t know. And risk, because curiosity will almost always take you out of your comfort zone into uncertainty. Asking radical questions challenges your assumptions. You know, the ones you take for granted.  Provocative questions often force you to change.

Make a list of your favorite innovators–think James Dyson, Richard Branson, Lady Gaga, Malala Yousafzei, and Elon Musk–what do they have in common? They are radically curious. They ask better, more insightful, and more provocative questions than the rest of us–questions that connect dots and unlock transformation in ways we never imagined.

If you want to lead the charge on innovation in your organization make it safe and then expect people to ask better questions.

4. Foolish

XPrize Founder, Peter Diamandis says, “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” On the backside of a successful innovation people look like geniuses, but in the beginning they look like lunatics.

From electric cars and commercial space flight to boring tunnels for roads under mega-cities, Elon Musk is frequently the target of doubters. He’s eccentric. He’s emotional. He often seems erratic. But he’s clearly moved the needle in terms of what the world deems possible.

Let us remind you that the Apple Newton was a huge failure and many thought Steve lost his edge. But maybe it wasn’t so foolish. The Newton paved the way for the iPhone and iPad. Consumers did not immediately embrace the iPod. Perceived as the folly of a rebel designer, it was so radically different, so bold that people couldn’t get their minds around it. But when people finally got the magnificent elegance and simplicity of a “1,000 songs in your pocket” the iPod got traction. Steve Jobs and Jony Ive looked like geniuses.

Disruptive, game-changing innovation almost always looks foolish initially. That’s why the critics fire arrows at you, the naysayers drag their feet and the cynics stand in your way. With a scary-big idea people will tell you it’s CRAZY and why it won’t work. They might say, “Well it might work, but there’s no market for it or we don’t have the resources to develop it.” Then, when it is a breakthrough they say, “I thought this was a great idea.” This is why innovation requires thick skin, a little swagger, and the willingness to look foolish.


5. Resilient


That’s the number of prototypes British inventor, James Dyson, made before he got it right with his mini-cyclone vacuum cleaner—now a huge hit.

That’s 5,126 iterations (read failures) that didn’t work out. Foolishness requires resilience. Resilience is the ability to fail, learn from it and let go and then move forward quickly to the next step in the creative process. Resilience comes from being hungry, from a deep-seated conviction that the problem you are solving really matters.

Resilience also comes from rethinking failure. Let’s be realistic; if your dreams are big, if you step into the adventure of what’s NEXT, you will periodically find failure on the other side. Maybe that is not such a bad thing: We’ve learned to fear failure, but perhaps a critical link to resilience is to see failure as an essential ingredient to getting what we want and what our organizations need. Maybe we need to fail faster. If we redefine failure as a prerequisite to more extraordinary things, perhaps we would embrace it more freely. Failure:

  • Builds resilience and resolve. The more you fall and get back up, the stronger you become.
  • Exposes blind spots, the difference between the impact we think we have on people—family members, clients, colleagues—and our actual impact.
  • Broadens our perspective. Sometimes failure forces us to see the world through the eyes of others.
  • Makes us humble. Failure makes us more open to learning and the influence of others.
  • Promotes creativity. When we fail, we become more resourceful; we learn how not to do something, which brings us closer to doing something else more successfully.

Innovators fail more because they try more. They understand that failure is a steppingstone to success. They don’t personalize it or let it foster shame. They see it as good information: “Okay, we know that didn’t work. Let’s try it another way.”

We are not only asking you to rethink failure; we are challenging you to embrace it as a positive force in your life.