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This week's post was inspired by a recent article in "Fortune" magazine where Steve Jobs and Sam Walton were compared and contrasted by their biographers Walter Isaacson and John Huey (1). Walton and Jobs were born in different eras, had very diverse backgrounds, pursued different paths to success, failed a few times along the way, and all while still chasing their career zenith by the end of their lives. In this post, we will discuss the ONE thing they both had in common that ultimately made them superstars in their respective fields.

Let's start with some quotes from both Sam Walton and Steve Jobs.

If you read between the lines, you will clearly understand the basic traits required for you to become a superstar in your respective field.

  • "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." - Steve Jobs
  • "Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish" - Sam Walton
  • "Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become." - Steve Jobs
  • "Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song." - Sam Walton
  • "Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new." - Steve Jobs
  • "There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else." - Sam Walton
  • "If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, with any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on." - Steve Jobs
  • "I had to pick myself up and get on with it, do it all over again, only even better this time." - Sam Walton
  • "We don't get a chance to do that many things, and everyone should be really excellent. Because this is our life." - Steve Jobs
  • "I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they've been." - Sam Walton
  • "When you're doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you're not going to cheese out. If you don't love something, you're not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much." - Steve Jobs
  • "I probably have traveled and walked into more variety stores than anybody in America. I am just trying to get ideas, any kind of ideas that will help our company. Most of us don't invent ideas. We take the best ideas from someone else." - Sam Walton
  • "I want to put a ding in the universe." - Steve Jobs

There are multiple great character traits that can be derived from above quotes. Among my favorites:

  • Perseverance - Both individuals saw setbacks as an opportunity to pause, see what went wrong, and make adjustments to positively keep moving forward. Steve Jobs especially went through multiple career cycles in different companies, but each one in many ways was building his portfolio that would lead to the current Apple. In other words, NEVER, EVER, GIVE UP.
  • Showmanship - Most of us can imagine Sam Walton opening up a new store and being the greeter at the front door welcoming that first customer and making that individual feel like they were the most important person in the world. The Walmart weekly company meetings are legendary in terms of staging, execution, and yes showmanship. Ditto for Steve Jobs in terms of being comfortable on stage when he truly believed in the new concept he was sharing. For each new product announcement, even when he was sick with cancer, Steve was on stage, holding up that new device and through simple graphical messaging transfixed his audience to believe that "it" was the next big thing in technology. IN LIFE WE ARE ALL ON STAGE. Make showmanship your friend. Don't think of it as public speaking. Think of it as your opportunity to showcase to the world your personal strengths.
  • Customer focused - Both Steve and Sam understood that winning starts and ends with exceeding the customers' expectations. Sam was totally correct in that there is only one boss and that it is the customer. In life, WE ALL HAVE CUSTOMERS. How we serve or more importantly exceed customers expectations determines future success.

Above traits are important to a successful career, but reading the "Fortune" article comparing Sam Walton and Steve Jobs was a great reminder that the most important ONE trait that all of us need to strive for to "put a ding in the universe" is PASSION.

Both Steve Jobs and Sam Walton were outstanding in their field and their passion to ensure that what they built would thrive in the future was constantly on their mind, even as they knew they were dying. As John Huey pointed out about Sam Walton in the "Fortune" article, "One of the last conversations I had with Sam, he was lying on his hospital bed in his living room and he was weak, and he was down to skin and bones, and he said, "John, I don't know. We built a heck of a company over there. But I can just tell. I haven't been over there in a month. I know they're over there screwing it up (1)." As Steve Jobs was stepping down from Apple, he said, "Here's what's in our DNA at Apple. We stand at the intersection of art and science; at the intersection of creativity and technology." And he said, "That's been in the DNA of great companies. (1)"

Why is passion the most important trait to a successful life? Very simple, if you have found your passion, time will accelerate, ideas seem to come out of nowhere, and you will work harder while actually having more fun. Take the time to truly step back and figure out what your passion is, what drives you to ignore distractions, get very focused on what's in front of you, and what gets you excited to take your idea to the next level.

As 2012 ends and we are all thinking about the new year, how to make it more prosperous, create a stronger family bond, enlarge our circle of friends, day dreaming "what if" scenarios, it is indeed the best time to look inward and identify your passions.

Need some help getting there? Congratulations for you are living in a very lucky generation. Today thanks to the worldwide web, social media, mobile phones, globalization, you have a tremendous number of resources in front of you to help you find your true calling in life. The same technologies and the extended global network gives you options to find new ideas, test new concepts, leverage that global set of advisers, to ultimately help you understand your unique formula to success. Success is not having a full time job. Failure is not being unemployed. Both ends of the spectrum are interim steps. They are interim because they are transitions for part of your life. Many of Steve Job's famous quotes deal with the shortness of life, the importance of family, and above all the significance of living each day with passion as it was your last.

Want some inspiration to find your passion in 2013? A good start is the Stanford University Commencement Address titled "How to Live Before You Die" delivered by Steve Jobs. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

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