BY CARMINE GALLO, HARVARD INSTRUCTOR,
KEYNOTE SPEAKER, AUTHOR, ‘THE BEZOS BLUEPRINT’@CARMINEGALLO
When Steve Jobs urged Stanford graduates to "do what you love" in his 2005 commencement address, the generative A.I. revolution had yet to begin. But Jobs' advice is even more important today because, according to a famed economics professor and TED speaker, following your passion is the only way to compete, stand out, and remain relevant. Dr. Larry Smith teaches entrepreneurship and business at the University of Waterloo, ranked among the top universities for founders. Smith has meticulously tracked over 23,000 students as they started businesses or launched careers.
Smith gives his students the advice he shared in his now iconic TED Talk: Follow your passion, and you'll have a great career.
I recently talked to Smith to see if his perspective has changed as A.I.'s capabilities mirror, and often exceed, human-level skills. Smith says people should be worried if they fail to strengthen and leverage the skills and attributes that make them uniquely human. Fortunately, he says, there's a simple model to stand out and get ahead. 1. Follow Your Passion "Great careers are driven by the innovations that arise from passion," Smith told me. "But what, exactly, is passion?" I asked Smith. "After all, I'm passionate about golf -- I love the game -- but making it a career would have been a mistake."
Smith clarified: A passion is not just an area you enjoy or are interested in. A true passion for a subject means you are obsessed with solving a problem in that domain.
"For example, I'm interested in archaeology," adds Smith. "I like to read about it. I like to go to museums, but I'm not interested in solving problems in the field. That's the difference between an interest and a passion."
In other words, pursuing a passion is "essential" for success -- but far from sufficient. Following your passion is only valuable if it leads to the next step in the success formula.
2. Be a Creative Problem Solver Although passion plays a starring role in a person's ultimate success, Smith does not ask graduating students what they're passionate about as he guides them on their career paths. Instead, he asks, "What problem do you want to solve?" For example, Steve Jobs didn't start a company to build a computer. The tool already existed. Jobs' vision was to solve a problem: how to make the tool more accessible and user-friendly for a broader audience.
According to Smith, the ability to use human imagination to create entirely new and novel solutions will set you apart from machines.
"The evidence should now be clear to anyone who has half a brain that routine work is going to be done by the machines," says Smith. "True innovators address problems by using existing processes, data, and information and then adding a novel element to create an entirely new tool."
I was thinking about Smith's advice when I read about Purdue University scientist Dr. Xiulin Ruan who created the whitest paint ever developed. Why? Because he wanted to help solve a problem -- the climate crisis. Ruan isn't passionate about paint," he told The New York Times. He's passionate about using his talent as a mechanical engineer to "save energy while cooling the Earth."
Once you've created a new idea, the final step is to "sell" it.
3. Learn Effective Public Speaking Creative problem solvers must be able to persuade others. And that's why Smith believes that powerful communication skills will always be a valuable asset. "What good is it for you to find a better tool if you are so inarticulate that you can't explain the tool to anybody else?" asks Smith.
According to Smith, innovators have an obligation to market their ideas.
Smith and I agree that effective public speaking and presentation skills can -- and should -- be taught. For example, Smith founded The Problem Lab, a first-of-its-kind institution in Canada to help innovators solve the world's biggest problems. The Lab hosts pitch competitions for entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas. Even those who lose the competition win -- they learn how to make their pitches even better.
Humans will never aggregate and create content as fast as generative A.I. platforms. But if people focus on what they do best -- using their imagination to create new and novel ideas -- they'll stand out in the age of A.I.
on each box.