Welcome everyone. I’m your host, Greg McKeown, and I am here with you on this journey to learn to understand so that we can operate at our highest point of contribution. Have you ever wondered why some people always seem to have a hunger for knowledge and new experiences? Many people believe that curiosity is just an inborn trait, but the truth is it’s a powerful discipline that can be cultivated.
In this episode, we’ll delve into one of the most extraordinary relationships in Silicon Valley history to inspire us into what is possible through this special characteristic. By the end of this episode, you will be better able to unlock the full potential of your inquisitive nature, and you’ll have one actionable tool that you can use immediately after this podcast is over. Let’s begin.
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Have you ever wondered about the unique bond between some of the world’s most influential innovators? Perhaps some of us imagine it’s all about fierce competition, heated debates, and relentless drive, but the story today is one about elegant influence.
I recently went back and read The Intimate Remembrance by Jony Ive, former Chief Design Officer at Apple, as he reflected on the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ passing. It’s a story that uncovers the true essence of their collaboration. It goes way beyond the products and the brand they built and reaching really the realm of love for humanity, passion for learning, and a profound impact of simple, genuine interactions.
When Steve died on October 5th, 2011, after a challenging eight-year battle with an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, it was Ive who paid tribute to his friend and colleague with a heartfelt eulogy during a commemorative event at Apple’s Cupertino campus.
10 years later, he wrote about his reflections for the first time publicly since that address, a decade before. He begins, “I have barely thought about Steve’s death. My memories of that brutal, heartbreaking day 10 years ago are scattered and random. I cannot remember driving down to his house. I do remember a hazy October sky and shoes that were too tight. I remember afterward, Tim and I sat quietly in the garden together for a long time.”
“Since giving Steve’s eulogy, I have not spoken publicly about our friendship, our adventures, or our collaboration. I never read the flurry of cover stories, obituaries, or the bizarre mischaracterizations that have slipped into folklore, but I think about Steve every day.”
Well, they worked together for nearly 15 years. They had lunch together most days and spent their afternoons in what I’ve describes as the sanctuary of the design studio. “Those were,” he said, “some of the happiest, most creative, and joyful times of my life.”
“I loved how he saw the world. The way he thought was profoundly beautiful,” but then he adds this, which really took my breath away. He said, “He was, without doubt, the most inquisitive human I have ever met. His insatiable curiosity was not limited or distracted by his knowledge or expertise, nor was it casual or passive. It was ferocious, energetic, and restless. His curiosity was practiced with intention and rigor. Many of us have an innate predisposition to be curious. I believe that after a traditional education or working in an environment with many people, curiosity is a decision requiring intent and discipline.”
And that really grabbed my attention because just in episode 216, where I interviewed Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, I asked him about his perspective working over 30 years with the three CEOs that so define these three eras at Microsoft, Bill Gates, Steve Balmer, and now Sya Nadella, and what he said about those three really different CEOs was fascinating.
He said, “The first thing I would note is that they all share something in common, something I’ve seen as a very common attribute in other very, very successful leaders in their fields around the world. It’s curiosity. They’ve always, each of them, been very interested in learning more and thinking more deeply and broadly about whatever it was that was important.”
So it grabbed my attention to read that description that Jony Ive just made of Steve Jobs. Jony continues, “Our curiosity begs that we learn, and for Steve wanting to learn was far more important than wanting to be right. Our curiosity united us, it formed the basis of our joyful and productive collaboration. Steve was preoccupied with the nature and quality of his own thinking. He expected so much of himself and worked hard to think with a rare vitality, elegance, and discipline. His rigor and tenacity set a dizzyingly high bar. When he could not think satisfactorily, he would complain in the way I would complain about my knees.”
“Perhaps,” he continues, “it is a comment on the daily roar of opinion and the ugly rush to judge. But now, above all else, I miss his singular and beautiful clarity beyond his ideas and vision. I miss his insight that brought order to chaos. It has nothing to do with his legendary ability to communicate but everything to do with his obsession with simplicity, truth, and purity.”
Now, let me pause for a moment from that story to make a tangible suggestion, something you can do immediately now to be able to turn curiosity into more of a discipline. It’s simply this:
Ask the third question. When learning about a new topic, make it a practice to ask at least three questions. The first question is often surface-level. The second dives deeper, but it’s the third question that often challenges assumptions and uncovers fresh insights.
If you’re in a business meeting, instead of just asking about the project deadline or the objectives, ask a deeper question like, how do we anticipate this project will impact our overall business strategy? Then a third question, what are the potential roadblocks we might face, and how can we proactively address them?
If you’re in a job interview, don’t just ask about the role of the company culture. Start with that, but go further. Ask the second question. Can you share an example of a challenge the team faced and how it was resolved? Then the third question. How does this role contribute to the company’s mission and long-term goals?
I’m just giving examples here. Of course, there’s no reason to be limited to these questions, but whatever the situation, ask the third question. The next time you are networking or meeting someone for the first time, instead of sticking to questions about someone’s current job or their background, ask a second question, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career? Or go to a third question. Can you tell me about a time when you faced a significant professional challenge? What happened? What did you learn?
And the tool of the third question, of course, applies in personal relationships. Two, rather than just asking how someone’s day was, go for a deeper second question, what’s something that made you smile today? And a third question, what are you most passionate about right now in your life and why?
When you’re learning something for the first time, don’t just ask what something is or how it works at the surface. Keep going with a second and third question. Why is it designed this way? What are the implications if this didn’t work as expected? Remember, the essence of disciplined curiosity isn’t about knowing more. It’s about questioning more. It’s about learning to enjoy the journey of discovery and using this approach to fuel your creativity, your relationships, and even your life.
Now, let’s come back to the words of Jony Ive. He writes, “Steve’s last words to me were that he would miss talking together. I was sitting on the floor next to his bed, my back against the wall. After he died, I walked out into the garden. I remember the sound of the latch on the wooden door as I gently pulled it closed. In the garden, I sat and thought how talking often gets in the way of listening and thinking. Perhaps that is why so much of our time together was spent quietly. I miss Steve desperately, and I will always miss not talking with him.”
Well, that’s something to think about. This episode is continuing a theme of how we can make technology and AI, specifically for that matter, something that serves us rather than masters us. And we’ll continue with that theme and with some of this Steve Jobs remembrance on Thursday’s episode, where you’ll get to hear part one of a conversation with Ron Johnson. Ron was the senior Vice President of retail operations at Apple, where he pioneered the concept of the Apple retail stores and the Genius Bar. He shared five meaningful moments with Steve Jobs, and I hope you’ll join me then.
What is one thing that stood out to you from today’s episode? What is one thing you will do differently immediately to ask the third question? And who is one person you can share this episode with so that the conversation can continue, even though now the episode is over?