Steve Jobs Commencement Address
Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford University, June 2005.
By Andy Germak, MBA, MSW
I recently watched the movie Jobs, which describes the career of Steve Jobs, technology entrepreneur and founder of Apple. What strikes me most about Jobs is that he never wavered in the pursuit of his goals, despite various setbacks that he experienced during his life and career. Essentially, Jobs dedicated his entire working life to changing the way people manage their affairs through the use of technology. Even after his death, the company he founded continues to endure.
Let us think for a moment what the world would be like if Jobs had been a social worker instead of a technology entrepreneur. Would hundreds of millions of people now have access to necessary social services? Would social services be as ubiquitous as the iPhone? It is interesting to think about what could happen if more social workers were to follow the entrepreneurial path of Steve Jobs. But to do this, in my view, we need to change the way we do business.
Many people who choose social work as a career path do not often share the entrepreneurial instincts of Steve Jobs. I suggest that we, as social workers, can learn from the following key areas that Jobs seemed to understand very well. If more of us can execute in these areas, social workers, too, will be able to make a dent in the universe of social welfare just like Steve Jobs famously set out to do in the field of technology.
First, having a steadfast vision for one’s work is essential. Think about what issues keep us awake at night and how we can orient all of our activity toward resolving these issues. Jobs did just that and, subsequently, he developed a very clear vision of how he wanted to change the world, and this vision was consistent throughout his career. The good news for social workers is that many are dedicated to an overall vision of social and community impact. My suggestion is to try to focus this vision so that it is clear both to the social worker and to the outside world. This consistency will not only help enhance our capacity to solve specific social problems but also help funders and investors understand what it is that we want to achieve, which will attract more investment to our field.
Second, innovation was a hallmark of Steve Jobs’ career. He never stopped inventing new products, designs, and services. In fact, he prided himself on creating products and services that people didn’t even know they needed or wanted. Social workers by nature are very creative; we usually find inventive ways to provide services amid constrained resources. The key point here is for us to take this a step further and strive to create new ways of providing social work services that disrupt the status quo and make service delivery more efficient and effective. Social work as an industry can and should be just as innovative as the technology industry.
Third, Steve Jobs also possessed tenacity, which is defined as the persistence to pursue something despite many obstacles. For example, even when Apple’s board of directors decided to fire Jobs as CEO during a downturn in the company’s history, he continued to pursue his vision through various side projects. Like Jobs, social workers frequently experience many setbacks along their career paths. It is important to stay the course and keep the long-term social impact goals in mind. Tenacity is a key attribute of a successful entrepreneur, and it can also be a helpful quality for social workers to develop.
Finally, Jobs understood the idea of scale. He almost never pursued a new product idea thinking that it would only be offered in a small, local market. Instead, he thought big and wanted to provide new products on a mass scale. In fact, iPhones, iPads, and other Apple products have achieved such sufficient scale in recent years that Apple’s supply chain has at times not been able to keep up with the market demand, and there have been periodic delays in product delivery. While this type of delay problem is not ideal for social work, it would be ideal if social workers were to think more about scaling, replication, and providing effective services to a mass audience. This is how we will truly solve the world’s most pressing social problems.
Interestingly, all of the above concepts – vision, innovation, tenacity, and scale – apply as much to social work services as they do to Apple products and services. Indeed, in recent years, we have seen the rise of social entrepreneurs, and social enterprise is becoming increasingly popular in many parts of the world, but social workers are often not involved in such enterprising activity. In my view, social workers are very well-positioned to follow a similar path to that of Steve Jobs, but doing so often requires a new mindset. With a new mindset, it is possible that we might truly be able to solve some of the world’s most pressing social problems.
Andy Germak, MBA, MSW, is executive director of the Institute for Families and lecturer at Rutgers University School of Social Work in New Brunswick, NJ.