The Career Catalyst Steve Jobs Shares With Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
In 2008, I read a story in Fortune about silicon valley’s best-kept secret. It was about an insightful help that silicon valley leaders like Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page had received, which changed their companies and their careers. It revealed one external element that was common, but not commonly known in the careers of silicon valley’s top leaders.
Successful careers need much more than individual talent. An external and often crucially important element has to play a part as a catalyst.
When we see people succeed in their careers, it often looks like they were at the right place at the right time, knew the right people, and were able to present themselves confidently to get what they wanted. It often seems that luck played a part in their successes, that their inborn talents and their network helped them get the needed breaks.
Is it all luck, personality, and unfair advantage, or is there a method for a successful career that anyone can adopt? After studying career successes in the high tech industry, I see that there is a method to build a successful career, and it consists of four crucial cornerstones one needs to build with the help of an external catalyst.
Career Success = Inner Work + External Catalyst
Successful careers are built on four inner cornerstones clarity, confidence, competence, and consistency. However, to build these inner cornerstones, an external catalyst is essential. Availability of such catalyst at the right time can be seen as a fortunate coincidence but top performers intuitively invite or proactively create such catalysts for themselves.
Before we go into the catalysts of success, let’s briefly look at the inner cornerstones for a career success. These inner cornerstones are universal and very evident in biographies of influential technology leaders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
Clarity of mind is the foundation of success. Clarity brings direction, control, and certainty to your career trajectory.
Top performers have clarity on what they want to do and why they are doing it. They achieve this clarity by consciously thinking about the most essentials.
You need to be clear at least about the following two areas:
1. Who you are? How you want to use your strength to add value to the world? What rewards you want to experience along the way?
2. Where is the world heading? What does it need? What is trending?
Most people are too busy with day to day routines to reflect on these crucial questions. However, investing some time periodically to do self-reflection and some research about what is going on in the world; goes a long way in establishing a firm foundation of clarity.
Once you have clarity, you know what to look for, and you know what to avoid. Clarity is needed to set a clear intention and direction. It gives you control and puts you in the driver’s seat. Without clarity, a career drifts like an abandoned raft in an ocean.
“It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Confidence is the doubtless certainty about one’s abilities to figure things out.
It is an emotional state. It requires trust in yourself and also faith in the way things are. Confidence allows you to take risks, to negotiate, to persist, and to walk away when needed.
Contrary to the popular belief, certificates and degrees do not automatically bring confidence. Confidence needs to be consciously worked on and strengthened.
Build confidence like a muscle by taking calculated risks, stretching beyond the comfort zone and persisting until you prove it to yourself that you can do what you decide to do.
Confidence takes a massive hit if you have had traumatic experiences in the past. It requires deep-dives into the mind to be aware of the emotional blocks that are eclipsing you, and dissolve them systematically.
Once you release all the emotional baggage that was holding you back, confidence springs up again.
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ― E.E. Cummings
Competence is the skill or skills that you are especially good at.
Today’s fast-paced and competitive world requires staying competent with in-demand skills. You need to know what your core competency is and build up skill sets around it. It is not only essential to learn the latest and greatest, but the skills you invest time learning need to be aligned with your strength and your passion.
For details, check out an article I wrote, which goes in depth of the topic of technical competence:
One Mistake Loyal Employees Make That Ultimately End Their Careers
Technical competence is essential, but more important is emotional competence. You need to be competent enough to invoke the most empowering emotion for the situation at hand.
“They all have excellent resumes… So what I’m trying to find out is how they will behave under pressure.” ― Hyman G. Rickover
Consistency is underscores a constant desire and firm commitment to one’s goals.
Like a melody, we compose our lives with repeating patterns of routines and habits. Therefore, it is crucially important to consciously choose, build, and maintain habits that will promote peak performance and ultimate rewards.
Consistent mindfulness practice and regular exercise are the secrets of highly successful people. In addition to these, one needs to be consistent in sharpening core skills and maintaining a positive and open mind. Consistency builds reliability. People who are consistently high performers are seen as reliable and tend to get promotions, rewards, and exciting opportunities. Consistency, therefore, is an essential cornerstone for career success.
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” ― E. James Rohn
People with a strong foundation of these career cornerstones stay in sustained states of motivation, discipline, and creative persistence for however long it takes. Success for them becomes inevitable.
Clarity, Confidence, Competence, and Consistency come together to build emotional mastery that sets apart the successful from the rest.
We All Need A Catalyst
Even when we have all the elements of success in our trove; we still may not be motivated to move or to take definitive action towards our career goals. We wait for something. We wait for a catalyst. Someone or some event which will motivate or compel us to take needed action. A situation with a personal challenge, an irresistible, once in a lifetime opportunity, or an encounter with a role model. These events act as a catalyst for success.
Having a catalyst in life is like falling in love. You start seeing the world through a different lens, a massive amount of energy and motivation becomes available to you, and you carry yourself by enthusiasm and inspiration.
When things are just not clicking for you, instead of waiting endlessly for a change, it is wiser to introduce a catalyst proactively. Making massive changes like moving to a different place or taking up a new job, or going on a sabbatical is a way to compel into action. Pejman Ghadimi, self-made multi-millionaire and author of Third Circle Theory — Purpose Through Observation, suggests that we initiate one drastic life change every five years to catalyze ourselves into the learning and growth mindset.
We get our lucky breaks when we proactively break apart from our norms.
Drastic change is not the only way to introduce catalysts. Mentors, advisors, and coaches are excellent catalysts as well. Working with them can save you years to get the insights you need to have a breakthrough. Approaching role models for advice and mentorship is a great way to introduce catalyst in your life. Working with a coach helps tremendously as well because they proactively put all the pieces together for you and with you.
The Silicon Valley’s Secret Catalyst
The story in Fortune I read, was about a behind-the-scenes catalyst to the successes of companies like Apple and Google. Away from the limelight and fame, this person worked closely with famous tech leaders like Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page.
His name was Bill Campbell. Bill wasn’t a technologist, nor a programmer or an engineer. Bill was their coach.
Coach Bill Campbell was so influential that he went on a weekly Sunday walk with Steve Jobs, and the Google founders said they wouldn’t have made it without Bill’s coaching. Bill coached some of the finest and most intelligent minds. These legends proactively sought Bill’s coaching because they knew how important it is to have another competent mind for deeper self-reflection, accountability, and insights.
In the recently released book “Trillion Dollar Coach,” author Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, underscores the crucial role coach Bill Campbell has had on him and on many technology leaders like Ning’s Marc Andreessen, Apple’s Steve Jobs, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Venture Capitalist Al Gore, Numenta CEO Donna Dubinsky, and YouTube’s Steve Chen and Chad Hurley.
All top performers have coaches not because they can afford to have a coach, but because top performers cannot afford not having a coach.
An intelligent mind operates at the speed of light, but it also tends to get stuck in emotional blind spots like overconfidence, self-doubt, uncertainty, and self-criticism. Sometimes it takes two for one to make progress!
Coach Bill’s positive outlook, enthusiasm, genuine care for the success of his people, and his deep practical insights have secretly powered Silicon Valley’s ultimate success stories. He has been the ultimate catalyst. His presence was absolutely essential for the prominent leaders to succeed, yet, Bill himself was not in the limelight.
Having another skilled mind who can facilitate deep self-reflection helps to save years of futile effort wasted in open emotional loops. You can quickly build up clarity, confidence, competence, and consistency if you are working with a right coach or a mentor.
There you have it! If we can carry ourselves with clarity, confidence, and competence consistently, we are on their way to the heights of our potential. The foundation of success starts within a person. But the inside work is helped tremendously with some help from the outside catalyst.
Don’t wait, introduce a catalyst in your life.