Steve Jobs Vs. Tim Cook: Words of Wisdom


Steve Jobs, visionary genius. Tim Cook, stalwart stationkeeper. That's how the two men at the heart of Apple's fresh rearrangement are seen today.

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While Jobs was behind the innovation and strategy that thrust Apple toward a trillion-dollar valuation, Cook polished and perfected the firm's operational approach that brought Jobs' visions to fruition. While we've seen plenty of Jobs personality over the years, we've had mere flashes of Cook. Except that both men have given commencement speeches. Here's a breakdown of the words and themes they chose, and what their choices suggest about their leadership styles and approaches to moving Apple forward.

Jobs, Stanford, June 2005.

Jobs began his speech with respect, and a self-deprecating statement that set the tone for the rest of his speech:

"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories."

The word cloud above is a visual snapshot of the rest of the speech. Glancing at it there's one word that isn't as present as you may have expected it to be: Apple. The company that's dominated Steve's life and defined a whole generation's worth of technology only gets eight mentions. Apart from the usual functional words, the one that Jobs used the most was "life," with 15 mentions--presumably as he was conscious of the inspiration he was expected to instill in the graduates ahead of their professional lives, and also because of his recent battle with cancer. That might also be why he used the word "years" a lot (nine times). "College," as something he never went to, was used 12 times.

Other standout words from Job's speech, used less often but more powerful in tone, include: "scary," "love," "karma," "amazing," "great," "death" and "foolish." Job's speech is laden with emotion, and personal revelations. He recounts his initial battle with pancreatic cancer, his expulsion from Apple, and his experiences learning calligraphy at Reed. He doesn't reference his own success as much, or his own talents and instead talks about his experiences, feelings, and the people in his life.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Jobs' speech is that he doesn't directly advise the graduates before him. Instead, he merely relates his life experiences (using the word "I" close to 90 times) and hopes that by showing he's achieved success despite some adversity, the Stanford students will be inspired to follow their dreams. The one bit of advice he does give is classic: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." This is supremely fitting for a man who turned a company that famously flopped into the world's biggest.

This is a calm, centered, yet still passtionate and emotional Steve Jobs--speaking plainly, and with no attempt to add any sort of PR to the inspirational speech. Moving on to Tim Cook's commencement speech at Auburn...

Cook, Auburn, May 2010.

Tim Cook attended Auburn University to study Industrial Engineering (with later an MBA at Duke), and returned last year, while COO and sometime-acting-CEO of Apple, to give a commencement address. Cook begins with the traditional "honor and a privilege" phrases, adding how attached he is to his alma mater. The Gulf oil spill got a mention before moving onto the meat of his speech, showing his attention to environmental issues and empathy.

Cook's speech, as the word cloud reveals, is all about Apple (with a count of 16 uses of the company name. Also figuring heavily are: "intuition" (15 uses), "life" (13), "decision" and "decisions" (15 combined), "prepare" and "preparation" (12 combined).

Cook themed his speech with these core ideas, directly giving out advice based on some of his own life experiences. Cook reveals that as an engineer he was taught to make decisions rationally, but that some of the best decisions he's made--including that to join Apple when it had just been pronounced as all but dead by Michael Dell--were made by trusting his gut. That sounds like an inspirational and emotional moment in his life, and his words about wanting to join Apple after just five minutes of being interviewed by Jobs back this up.

By his own words, Cook is a cautious and meticlous man. He urged the Auburn students to trust their gut feelings, but urged them to prepare their lives dilligently for the moment when they will have to make an intuitive choice (like a batter awaiting a curveball, who's practiced how to play them).

He describes Apple as a place where he's "surrounded by some brilliant and innovative thinkers who create the most elegant and extraordinary products in the world." He notes they "never take shortcuts," and "attend to every detail." Mistakes are par for the course, he notes, but if you work hard then you'll learn from them.

This tallies with what we know Cook has achieved for Apple--innovating and honing the way the company sources its products from a global production line, and turning its supply chain into one that defeats the competition, and clicks along like a precision machine all by itself.

Cook's speech is advice-centric, careful, humble in places, and delivered with a calm tone. This seems to be a man who knows how to listen to inspirational ideas and people in his team. His Auburn speech has just nine uses of "I." He seems to respect how others work, and help them work better--but he has his own strong gut instinct to bring to the table.

We may well see an Apple like this emerging over the next few years, with Jobs' creative ideas still at the core, delivered from his new Board role.

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