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The secret ingredient

June 3, 2013

Steve, I saw you give a speech a while back where you talked about the “secret ingredient” in business. Could you share that again? I missed part of it and it seemed interesting. Thanks in advance!

I would be happy to and let me start with a question: How many minutes do you think you have left to work?

The answer is – you probably have about two and a half million work minutes left. Now, how do I know this, and should you even care? The answer is, yes you should care and I know this because of a man named Douglas Englebart.
Never heard of him? Join the crowd.

It is amazing that how few people have heard of this remarkable, accomplished, brilliant man because he changed all of our lives. He did so because one day, near the beginning of his career, he found himself discontent. He didn’t like the direction his work life was headed and so he decided to think about the future. He crunched some numbers, did the math, and figured out that he had about 5 million work minutes left.

The question then became: What was the best way to use those minutes?

One thing Englebart realized was that he was wasting his minutes working as an engineer. His career was off-track and he knew in his gut that he needed a course correction.

If he was going to use his 5 million minutes well, he decided that what he really wanted to do was go where the action was going to be. This was in the early 60s, and Englebart thought that the wave of the future lay in that thing he loved but wasn’t working on – computers – and that the best use of his time was to follow that passion.

It is sort of like that famous line by Wayne Gretzky – don’t skate to where the puck is, skate to where it is headed.

In his case, Englebart “skated” over to the Stanford Research Institute. He wanted to figure out how to make computers more useful and accessible. Now, you have to realize that this was truly a man with a vision because at that time computers were gigantic boxy, clunky things that made funny noises and spat out punch cards.

But armed with his new plan, Englebart went to work, looking to figure out how to make computers more interactive. It took him several years, more than a million minutes as it were, but he finally came up with his revolutionary device –

Douglas Englebart invented the computer mouse. Circa 1968.

But my point is not that he invented the first computer mouse (though we are all grateful he did), the point is that this incredible entrepreneur showed the power of looking for where the puck is headed, not where it is.

That, my friends, is the “secret ingredient” in business. It is like this: I like to cook and I like to eat. And one thing I know is that every great cuisine seems to have its own secret ingredient – that one thing that ties everything together. In Chinese food, for instance, it’s sesame oil. In Mexican food, maybe it is cilantro.

And in business, it is your passion put to a plan.

Why? Because if you keep going in the same direction as you are going today, you will get to where you are headed. And unless you are headed in the perfect direction right now, consistent course corrections will be needed. That is what Douglas Englebart figured out. Seeing where the puck is headed in your business and then going there will point you in the right direction.

Do that, and you can be sure that you too will be using your millions of minutes wisely.

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