He is a Professional So That Makes Me an Amateur

I have an executive level friend with whom I have never worked but occasionally we meet each other in some common business settings. There is something truly remarkable about this friend’s behaviour in the business activities in which I have had the opportunity to observe him. What he does is he walks away from any activity as soon as his manager leaves.

After a while, as he repeated this behaviour several times, it didn’t take long for me to realize that rather than being a coincidence, this was a conscious pattern of behaviour that he had developed. Why is my friend, who has been working for his company for years, behaving in this way? In fact the answer is quite simple ‘he is a professional’. My friend, who looks like he is having such a good time while he is in a corporate environment, is in fact just striving to execute a corporate duty.

Realities in today’s job market have re-emphasized to us phrase ‘office politics’ in order not to be undermined / underappreciated with all your know-how and business acumen. A few years ago, I read the book “100 Tactics for Office politics” written by Casey Hawley. This book is a must-read. The book provides you with the tactics you need to deal with all situations and personality types that you could ever meet in a corporate setting.  While it gives you tactics that help you to advance your career, it also lists the mistakes that you should avoid. In other words, it helps you to take the control of your corporate destiny. What is your first step to build up your strategy? According to the book, before developing your own office strategies, first you should make a self-assessment:

  • How aggressive do you want to be?
  • What kind of corporate culture are you in? Conservative? Start-up? Competitive?
  • What fits with your personality?
  • What will your values and ethics allow you to do comfortably?
  • Which people will be affected by the move(s) you make? What are the risks? Rewards?

100 Tactics for Office Politics by Casey Hawley

The names of the chapters in the book make you realize how seriously office politics should be taken. Chapter titles include:

  • The 25 Critical Moves Every Professional Must Make
  • The 25 Career Blowers to Avoid
  • How to Get Your Boss to Advance Your Career
  • How to Handle the World’s Worst Bosses
  • Building Your Power: Networking and Publicizing Your Accomplishments
  • Major Players in Your Company and How to Get Them to Go to Bat for You
  • Beginning or Exiting a Job: Opportunity for Bridge Building or Disaster
  • How to Handle Your Co-workers and Staff So They Will Make You a Star
  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions: The Dirty Dozen
  • Your Action Plans for Success

After I finished reading the book, I had a better understanding of my friend’s behaviour. I even thought that most probably he had read the book. I haven’t met him recently, but a mutual friend told me that he had been promoted again a short while ago. I think – with no doubt at all – he will be at the very top in the near future. Personally, I benefited from the book a lot, too. Knowing all about these things made me aware of my limits:-) I became aware that I would rather continue to work like an ‘amateur’ rather than a ‘professional’ because this what I have in my nature!

'Office Politics' painting by Australian artist BJ Price

Related links:




Edited by Neville Wells

Photo Credit: Google Images

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away. Like many other people I felt that it was time for reflection. Last week as I listened to news and the tributes I tried to remember when the last time I had felt that way. It was June 2009, when Michael Jackson, recognized as the most successful entertainer of all time by Guinness Records with estimated record sales of over 750 million worldwide, passed away. Feeling a deep sense of grief with the loss of these genius people… These are the people whom we have never met but at the same time whom we know so well because of what they have brought to our lives. What makes these people special is that they have raised the standards in their industries and moreover they have defined their own brand new standards. They did what had never been done before, they thought what had never been thought before and they created what had never been dreamed about before. Below you can read the text of the commencement speech delivered by Steve Jobs at Stanford University on June 12th, 2005. After reading this text, I am sure that you will complete your picture perfect of Steve Jobs.

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 first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out? It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so 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. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

 I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was an awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

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 importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay hungry, stay foolish! Thank you all very much.

We thank you for everything.

References for the text of the commencement speech and the video:


Edited by Neville Wells

Photo Credit: Google Images

A Big Heart

After an absence of a couple of years, I am once again back in Chicago. Chicago is definitely one of the world’s special cities. Spending a few days in the city, I keep track off the current local agenda. Dick Cheney’s memoir “In My Time” has just come out. He makes explicit his personal and political memories while he was the vice president in the G.W. Bush administration. Cheney claims that he is optimistic about the book sales. Meanwhile Colin Powell meets with press claiming that in Dick Cheney’s memoir, he and some other colleagues are not portrayed correctly.

Hurricane Irene poses the threat of severe damage to the west coast of the country. Thousands of houses have been without electricity for many days. Roads, highways, houses and shops have been damaged heavily. Initial damage estimates in the United States are at seven billion dollars. The most widely asked question is how President Obama will cover the cost of Irene.

View of Chicago skyline from John Hancock Observatory

Dr Mehmet Oz is either on the cover of magazines or he is being interviewed by the press. He is a prominent authority in personal health and nutrition. Dr Oz is even giving recipes from Turkish cuisine such as menemen. Together with my husband we think about Prof Arman Kirim whom we lost recently in Istanbul. Besides his academic career as an economist, he had been the author of several best-selling cooking books in Turkey. Similarly, a Turkish cuisine based cooking book by Dr Oz could be an excellent guide for thousands of Americans who are fighting obesity and the complications it causes.

Chain book stores are losing out against online book sales. It makes me think that in a five-year- time it is a possibility that e-book stores may take over completely. Borders announced its bankruptcy and its nationwide shops will be closed down by the end of September. When we go to the Borders on State Street, we see that it is no longer the Borders in which we have spent so much time. It rather looks like an open market, even the shelves are on sale. Thank God, Barnes & Noble is still here, where would we have our day long coffee & book treat.

Wedding photo shoot of a couple in the Contemporary Art Museum

At night, I zap the American TV channels. Oprah’s old shows are still on air. I come across a show in which she is hosting Shaun Cassidy. Shaun Cassidy, who was a pop idol in the 1970’s, gave up his music career after a while and twenty years ago set out on a career as a producer. I recall that the first popular song I learnt in English was “I like Chopin” when I was in the fourth grade. This means that Shaun Cassidy years was too early for me. Oprah invites the fan who bought the first ticket for Shaun Cassidy’s concert in New York. She was a teenager then, now a middle aged black woman. Shaun Cassidy asks her how much she paid for the ticket. The ticket cost 8.5 dollars. She tells the audience how hard she worked to buy the ticket by baby-sitting and working as a cleaner in people’s houses. Then Oprah invites the fan to the front row to sing along with Shaun just as she had done all those years ago. Shaun, the fan, Oprah and all other people in the studio are feeling such intense emotions.  All together while the crowd is singing away, I think to myself about why Oprah Winfrey is such a great talk-show host. She has a big heart and touches everyone.

All my senses are alert trying to keep up with what is going on here in Chicago while getting through that long to-do list before I make way back to Istanbul.

Kapoor Sculpture in the Millenium Park

Variety of sauces exhibited in a Louisiana cooking restaurant

Edited by Neville Wells