The sad news today is Steve Jobs is dead, and America and the world has lost one of the most capable and innovative leaders ever born.
Steve Jobs’ Commencement address to graduating Stanford students in 2005 is the kind of orienting motivational document that is worth reading from time to time no matter who you are and what you do. But, in the spirit of better MBA applications, which is what this blog is 100 percent about, it’s worth going there today specifically to draw some lessons.
Lesson 1: Structure
In his opening few words, Jobs tells his audience: “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life.” What is he doing? He’s saying, here is the structure of what’s to come. Three stories. He’s signposted it in just one sentence, with no artifice and no fuss, and via these few words everyone knows what is coming and where they are all the way through the program. That’s being kind to your listener (or reader.) Kindness is often rewarded.
Lesson 2: Stories
Jobs needs to communicate fairly high-level and potentially abstract notions to do with choice, motivation, learning, patience, luck, love – and so on — to students. He could (so many do…) say something like: “It’s really important to be motivated and stay focused, and keep your focus when things go against you because sometimes adversity has good consequences you can’t see at the time …” Yawn.
Instead, he tells stories – relating concrete situations and events about himself. You are pulled into his life, prickled by the detail, listening or reading on willingly to know what happened next and how it turned out.
The stories make the point he wants to make all by themselves. Just one example: He doesn’t say: “I had no money when I dropped out of college, but I didn’t need much at that age.” He says: “I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it.”
Relevant, colorful story detail will make your interesting to your Adcom reader or MBA admissions interviewer; being interesting will get you noticed; getting noticed will go a long way to getting you admitted to the b-school you are applying to.
Lesson 3: Why an MBA?
Job’s again: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
When you answer the ‘Why-an-MBA’ question that all applications ask, this is what is at stake: not how will b-school put you on the next rung of a ladder, but how it will put you on or further along your life path. You don’t need a career blueprint – lot’s will change. But you do need to show the Admissions Committee some sense of what your heart and intuition calls you courageously to become, and how the MBA from their school will help you get there.
* See also How to Dent the Universe (or how to apply for an MBA like Steve Jobs would)