Inc.com column: Steve Jobs’ 3 Most Surprising Secrets to Success

The Apple founder’s advice highlights the biggest paradox you’ll face in manifesting your dreams.

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In the final minutes before Apple’s press conference, my thoughts drifted to what Steve Jobs would have thought about his legacy. I envied him in high school as one of the few guys for whom the creative die seemed to be cast as a teenager. His swagger throughout life and his approach to leadership never seemed to change–until the years just before his death.

Steve never lost that sparkle in his eye or that ever-present flow of ideas, even in his last moments. But in the final weeks before his passing, he shared three things that shocked me–not so much because he admitted them, but because the first one was something he’d embraced only fairly recently, while the other two were lifelong values.

1. “Ditch your ego completely at least once each day.”
Dump judging others as well as the self-criticism. Be open to hear what you need to change on the long, winding road to building your dream. This is something that Jobs acknowledged was a real challenge for him. (Perhaps it would be for any of us!) It’s a bit of a paradox of ambition plus humility. You need a lot of hubris to believe your ideas can be the best in the world, but you also risk losing your edge and falling behind unless you’re an obsessive listener. You have to soak up the brilliance of the people and customers you’ve worked so hard to recruit.

2. “Be unapologetically ambitious about your passion.”
This was Steve’s (and is most leaders’) blessing and curse. Your obsession to live your passion against all odds is one of the greatest of all assets, but arrogance is also your biggest weakness. Steve lamented that he led Apple to an unnecessarily high rate of lost talent, as well as ideas that he’d attracted but ignored–particularly back when his career and Apple hit the skids in the ’90s.

3. “Be grateful to others for what they contribute, but don’t do it for validation.”
Remember, there are plenty of loving critics and critical lovers who will unintentionally (and intentionally!) sabotage your ambitions because they care for you or they’d like to see you fail. If your venture is meant to impress someone, you’re setting yourself up for endless confusion.

The advice of a dying man, particularly this guru, is hard to ignore: “Don’t give yourself to anything unless you’re clear that it really matters.”

Inc.com Column: 4 Secrets to Success Richard Branson Learned From Nelson Mandela

Instead of getting angry when dealing with the headaches of launching a new business, Sir Richard draws on lessons Mandela taught him for overcoming a struggle.

Richard Branson

As Virgin America announced plans for its long-awaited IPO, Sir Richard Branson confided over a late-night beer just how maddening it can be to launch any high-flying business, even with more than 350 other companies under the Virgin brand. Back when the Bay Area-based airline was getting started, Virgin America’s competitors viciously contested the newcomer’s arrival for what seemed like an eternity. Price wars, lawsuits, and regulatory battles all soaked up precious resources.

“The knee-jerk reaction you feel when you’re under attack is to assume a siege mentality,” Branson said. But your fight-or-flight instincts are “a self-indulgent waste of time and money.” Instead, the legendary entrepreneur and his partners focused on reinventing the customer experience for domestic air travel, eventually winning share in the insanely competitive airline industry.

Branson said that rather than ever feel threatened or even sorry for himself, he’s always comforted by four principles that guided his longtime mentor, Nelson Mandela, whose circumstances were obviously far more desperate than any of us will ever experience.

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