It’s been a few years since I wrote the Hindsights speech. During these years, a lot of water has gone under the bridge. I am married to the same woman. I have three kids with a fourth on the way. (My youngest is a girl we adopted from Guatemala, and any day now, we are adopting her biological brother.) I’ve written seven books and made about five hundred speeches. I’ve started three companies and done another tour of duty at Apple. Finally, I’ve racked up 1.5 million miles on United Airlines–it’s a bad sign when immigration tells you, “There’s no more space on your passport; you need to get a new one.”
You’d think that I would have learned something beyond the original ten hindsights, and indeed I have. To this end, here is Hindsights II. If you add these hindsights to the ones in my first speech, you’ll have the big things that I’ve learned in life.
- Things are never as good or as bad as they seem. When I was working at Apple from 1983 to 1987, the company experienced fantastic highs and dismal lows. Shipping Macintosh was one such high. Apple’s first layoff a few years later was a dismal low. But I saw that when things were supposedly great, there were lots of problems that people chose to ignore. Then I saw that during the black days, things weren’t that bad: Customers were still buying Macintoshes by the thousands; developers were fairly happy, and most employees weren’t affected by the layoffs. (Some employees even thought the layoffs were a good method to clean house.) So I’ve learned to temper my optimism and my pessimism in my old age.
- You can love an adopted child as much as a biological one. A man’s contribution to a pregnancy lasts about ten seconds–five if he told the truth–three if you asked the mother. And yet I’ve met many men who who were skeptical about adoption because they didn’t think they could “bond” with a child that didn’t have their DNA–ie, the ten-second commitment. This is simply not true: when you hold your precious jewel for the first time, no one cares if none of those chromosomes came from you. Certainly not the baby. Certainly not your wife. So get over it. Your DNA isn’t the Holy Grail–to mix several metaphors.
- The key to child delivery is one word: “epidural.” We went to the delivery classes; we learned the relaxation techniques; we took the soothing music with us to the hospital. At the end of the day (or, more accurately twenty-six hours), we came to believe that if God wanted every delivery to be natural, She wouldn’t have enabled doctors to invent the epidural shot.
- People act like their last names sound. People may start to look like their dogs, but I think that they act like their last names sound. For example, I have a buddy named Will Mayall. He helps me with anything technical; for example, when I ask him if he can make my web site or blog do something, his initial response is, “I may be able to” and then two hours later he’s done it “all.” Hence, “may all.” Similarly, there’s Jean-Louis Gassée. He’s a funny guy–always armed with a great (usually sexual) metaphor to explain anything. He is a “gas” for the things that he “says”–hence, “gas say”. Then there’s Kawasaki–my high school football teammates told me that I was a “cow’s ass sagging.”
- If you think someone is an orifice, everyone else does too. When I met people that I didn’t like, I wondered if it was me or the person. Perhaps I had gotten her all wrong, and other people liked her, respected her, adored her, whatever. After much investigation, I formulated the Rule of Perfect Information About Orifices; that is, if you think someone is an orifice, pretty much everyone thinks she’s an orifice too. There is seldom disagreement about orifices. The same, however, is not true about good guys. If you think someone is a good guy, you should never assume most people agree with you.
- Life is too short to deal with orifices. Continuing on the orifice track. I’m now fifty-one years old, so more than half my life is over. There’s not enough time left to accommodate orifices–frankly, there’s not enough time to take care of the people you like. Why should you waste time with people you don’t? So no matter how great a customer, partner, or vendor someone could, or should, be, don’t waste time with orifices. They not only waste your time, but they taint your soul for the time you spent with the people you like.
- Entrepreneurs are always a year late and 90% high in their “conservative” forecast. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who were so green they couldn’t run a lemonade stand, and I’ve worked with entrepreneurs with great track records in brand-name companies. At the end of the day, experience, age, gender, educational background…nothing matters: entrepreneurs are usually a year late in delivering their product, and their financial results are 90% lower than their “conservative” forecast. This isn’t necessarily bad–indeed it may be necessary for entrepreneurs to believe their own bull shitake, but it is how things work.
- Judge others by their intentions and yourself by your results. If you want to be at peace with the world, here’s what you should do. When you judge others, look at what they intended to do. When you judge yourself, look at what you’ve actually accomplished. This attitude is bound to keep you humble. By contrast, if you judge others by their accomplishments (which are usually shortfalls) and yourself by your intentions (which are usually lofty), you will be an angry, despised little man.
- You don’t have to answer every email. I am compulsive about answering email. Sometimes I simply can’t answer email for weeks, and I feel like slitting my wrists. However, there have been a couple of times where I lost my inbox–copied the wrong file, file got corrupted, whatever–and I was terrified that hundreds of people wouldn’t get a response and would be furious. They’d be thinking, “Guy thinks he’s such a big shot that he doesn’t need to answer email anymore.” I expected to get hatemail for weeks. Do you know what happened? Nothing. Not one pissed-off email. I was amazed. But I am still compulsive about email.
- Always use the toilet in an airplane after a woman. This is getting a little vertical, or horizontal, depending on how you want to look at it. Simply put, men pee on the seat. Women don’t. And if a woman follows a man who peed on the seat, then she will clean it up before she sits down. If you sit down after her, you’re good to go–so to speak.
- Never ask people to do something that you wouldn’t do. This is the ultimate test for every sales promotion, marketing campaign, engineering design, and employee directive. If you won’t do something, don’t ask anyone else to do it. I don’t care how great your nuclear powered mousetrap is: You wouldn’t pay $500,000 for it, go back to school for a PhD in Physics to learn to set it, and drive to the middle of Utah to drop off the dead, toxic mouse. On the flip side, as my buddy Smittie told me, if you do the tough, dirty stuff then (a) employee can’t complain; and (b) employees will follow you because they know you would do what you’re asking them to do.
Addendum: Hindsights IIa: Many men have written to me that their spouses pee while standing up. Thus, my belief that women pee sitting down is false. And maybe WAY false because a woman peeing standing up is likely to be “less accurate” for reasons of plumbing. All this said, someone once told me that pee is sterile anyway, but I digress.
Written at: Anderson School of Management, UCLA, Los Angeles, California.