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Whoa. Wow! Hmmm. Yes! (How Steve Jobs got it right.)

Credit Dr. Mark Goulston with this headline.  Mark teaches that there is a process to innovation that can be summed up with these four words.  In fact, he states, that’s exactly how Steve Jobs described his “aha moment.”  So let’s paraphrase Mr. Jobs as we describe this process.

Jobs was invited to Xerox Parc research facility and – against the better judgment of the research coordinator – shown three projects the engineers were working on.  The first of Wowthe three was a rough cobbling together of a graphic user interface, complete with a crude “mouse.”  Jobs hardly remembered the other two.

“Whoa,” he must have thought when seeing that GUI for the first time. “Wow!” he states in later recounts was his intense impression.  “Hmmm” – that could be the future of computing everywhere, he says he thought immediately.  “Yes!” he must have said to his colleagues as soon as he was away from the facility.  His vision for the Macintosh and later for all that followed came from that “Yes!” moment, defining what would become one of the most valuable companies on earth with a single “aha” moment.

[Email readers, continue here…]  This is a process that you and I can use.  Think for a moment.  Have you ever had such a game–changing “aha” moment in your business life?  And if not, could you recognize it as a defining experience as Jobs did?

There are many examples of great advances in technology or industry from such aha moments.  But it is as much a skill to be developed as an accident of fate.   Discipline yourself to notice things that not only interest you, but draw deeply into your emotional self as you see them for the first time.  And when you do spot such an anomaly, “whoa.”  Slow down to absorb what you’ve seen and how you are reacting to it.

Your “wow!” moment follows if you can identify why you stopped to look, and connect that with your reason for excitement.  “Hmmm.”  This could be important and lead to something big for us. “Yes!”  I know what we can do to change the world with this.

It’s a process that is repeatable, even if the time this happens is rare, perhaps as in Jobs’ case, once in a lifetime.  But isn’t it worth making this a skill in your inventory of skills?  Perhaps the result is not a game–changer, just a great lift for the business.  Or perhaps it is the beginning of everything grand to follow.

  • Jim Reimers


    I had such an experience. Investments that go up as the stock market goes up and stay up when the stock market tanks? WHOA, That is too much. Investments involve risk of loss and most people see lots of losses. I studied. I took classes. WOW, or more like OH WOW, this is real, and this is revolutionary. HMMM, where does this lead? This is the future of investing for almost everyone. I will leave Warren Buffett and David Berkus out. They are doing very well on their own. But for the rest of us, this is the path to financial power. YES, and now, my path is to empower others financially.

  • I remember two such moments. The first was when I first saw Mosaic, in 94, while I was a faculty member at Emory University. After seeing it, I walked round and round the campus, ideas spinning, sure that this was going to change everything.

    The second was when I saw the short, 5 minute, Android operating system video in Feb/March of 08. It was another Mosaic moment, because it was going to knock down the walled garden built by the handset makers, and I went to work immediately on a mobile startup.

  • B. Kim Barnes

    Good post, Dave. Short, sweet, and punchy – and great advice!

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