Steve Jobs and Rotary…reading things that are not yet on the page.

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I just got finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.  The book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years, ever since I received it at our Rotary club’s gift exchange a couple of years ago.  We play that game where you can “steal” a gift from others up to three times, or you can choose from the gifts that haven’t been opened.  You know that game, right?   No offense to whoever wrapped this particular book but I’m pretty sure the book wasn’t exactly “new” when I opened it, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, with the release of the new Steve Jobs movie, I thought it might be a good time to finally get down to reading it.  So over the Christmas break I’ve been totally immersed in the incredible and compelling story of Steve Jobs.  As the Founder and CEO of Apple and Pixar, Jobs literally changed our world in more ways than I realized before I read his story. And, as your hard working RFA editor, I managed to find many lessons on Rotary leadership in the book.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Jobs about his views on customer satisfaction:

Some people say, “Give the customer what they want.”  But that’s not my approach.  Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.  I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.  That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

Here’s how this might relate to Rotary leadership.  When our task is to rethink how to make Rotary more relevant in our community.  How to reengage Rotarians in our clubs.  How to have more impact and make more of a difference in how we serve others, and how to attract the next generation to Rotary, perhaps the last thing we should do is to take a poll of our club members to see what they think the club should do.  It’s possible that they will say “they want a faster horse.”

Maybe what is needed is a leap in imagination. We need our Rotary leaders, at every level, to leapfrog what seems to be the desires of our customers (our current Rotarians) and create a vision that is so powerful that they realize that the new, bigger vision, for Rotary is what they wanted all along.

The Think Different ad campaign for Apple ran from 1997 – 2002.  To be honest with you I never paid that much attention to it before.  Think about Rotary as you listen to this message.  Breathtaking!  (By the way, that’s Richard Dreyfus doing the voiceover in this commercial.  Jobs also recorded the voiceover, but he decided not to use it for the commercial.  They played his recording at the memorial service for him after he passed.)

You might think I’m being overly dramatic, and maybe I am, but our organization allows us to do exactly this.  We have our own Steve Job’s right here in District 7620, and his name is Dr. John Sever.  What kind of dreamer…..or visionary…..or delusional person, would write a letter to the RI President, Clem Renouf, in 1979, and suggest that “we eradicate polio for all the children of the world?”  Sever, Renouf, and Cliff Dochterman, among many others, came up with a vision to eradicate polio more than thirty years ago.  They really did help the rest of us to Think Differently.  I wonder how they must feel today about what Rotary is about to accomplish?

Steve Jobs changed our lives.  Rotary, with our partners, is about to do the same worldwide.  It would be great if this year we all allowed ourselves to be “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels…” Let’s reimagine Rotary this year.

 

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7 thoughts on “Steve Jobs and Rotary…reading things that are not yet on the page.

    1. George, the content is yours to share. You can see copies of previous posts to the right of the blog text and there is an archive of all previous posts there as well. Enjoy!

  1. “Let’s reimagine Rotary this year.” Ok, Ken, great idea. Here it goes.

    Polo has almost been eradicated. Humans have almost done it. We are “_” close. What’s next for Rotary? What’s next for humanity? Why should new members join Rotary? What is the next “WHY” for Rotary?

    Let’s think for a second. What could help eliminate many of the world’s problems, not just one disease, but all diseases? What could help lift people out of poverty and close the gap between the richest and the poorest people in the world? What could allow people live longer, healthier, happier lives?

    How about this for a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): Eradicate illiteracy. World wide. Why not? It’s impossible, isn’t it? Didn’t they say that about polio…?

    1. I love this idea, if only because all of the ideas I hear seem to about disease prevention, and Rotary has five other areas of focus we might consider. I’ve heard the focus group working on this in Evanston is working under the constraints that whatever follows polio eradication must fit into one of our areas of focus, AND must have some kind of legitimate end date. Perhaps even more important that what is Rotary International going to do after polio, at least for me, is how will our Rotary clubs evolve in our communities? We don’t need RI’s permission to do more good in the world. We just get to do it. How great is that? Thanks for writing!

  2. I like to encourage positivity and creativity. Yet, my curmudgeonly character sometimes get that better of me.

    You touched on an interesting aspect of Rotary that I see lacking – vision. Of course, all the vision in the world won’t help without the leadership and, perhaps, influence to bring others to share in the vision.

    Someone might say “eradicate all disease”, others might say “eliminate illiteracy”, still others might want to provide potable water where there is none or to help in any of the six areas of focus.

    Obviously, we can’t do everything.

    In your blog post, you write:

    …”Here’s how this might relate to Rotary leadership. When our task is to rethink how to make Rotary more relevant in our community. How to reengage Rotarians in our clubs. How to have more impact and make more of a difference in how we serve others, and how to attract the next generation to Rotary, perhaps the last thing we should do is to take a poll of our club members to see what they think the club should do. It’s possible that they will say “they want a faster horse.””…

    I couldn’t agree more. Energizing current Rotarians and making our Clubs and our cause(s) attractive to people looking at Rotary from outside Rotary is a major challenge. There is no end to “Let’s do this or that.” (the faster horse)There is also enormous inertia, at least from my small vantage point.

    Visionaries need the room to bring others in to share the vision. One year in this or that position isn’t close to enough time. I would think you also need people who can be energized to spread the word. Right now, that energy is hard to find.

    Just my $.02

    1. As usual, right on point, Ken. Maybe one of the things we need to consider is how to keep our leaders engaged in Rotary leadership, even if they are no longer a club president, or a District Governor, for that matter. Is there a way to pursue big ideas outside of the “normal” channels of Rotary leadership, but still working within Rotary’s structure? I suspect there is.

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