Connecting the dots
Steve Jobs gave a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 in which he shared three stories from his life that each illustrated principles that I have also tried to apply to my own life: do the things that you’re interested in doing and trust that those things will eventually lead you to something meaningful, do what you love and don’t settle even when you lose the things you love, and don’t waste time living someone else’s life because we’re all going to die anyway.
In the first story, he talks about how he dropped out of college but stuck around campus to sit in on courses that interested him, like calligraphy, rather than the required ones. He believed that dropping out of school gave him the intellectual freedom to take an interesting class that didn’t seem to have any obvious real world, practical application, but that eventually led to all computers having multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts. He said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
The dot theory requires trust rather than intention and doesn’t work if you create dots aimed at a specific goal because the most interesting and satisfying things in your life often happen when dots connect in unexpected ways. You can’t predict the myriad of variables that will pop up along the way and that will have an impact on how the dots connect. Many dots will connect in ways that you couldn’t have predicted. Some dots may never connect but if you do interesting things to create them, then you will have at least had fun along the way.
Even though you will not be able to connect the dots looking forward, you can be more conscious of creating dots without knowing where they will take you. Aside from trusting karma or destiny, you can create new dots based on curiosity, generosity, courage, passion, and inspiration. Doing so opens up vast possibilities, many of which you don’t even know exist unless you trust that choices made with this framework will lead to cool things.
Dots should be created in vastly unconnected subject areas because unrelated reference points all contribute information in unexpected ways to finding solutions. Dots beget exponentially more dots so opportunities and pathways increase in direct proportion. You should generate as many as dots as possible and continue doing so throughout your life. The more dots you’ve got out there working their magic on your behalf, the better chance you have of them connecting up in cool and meaningful ways.
Making dots is not like networking. Making dots is like collecting experiences and people that sincerely interest you rather than collecting business cards and friends on Facebook or LinkdIn or followers on Twitter. Creating enough dots to connect in a meaningful way takes years. Start making dots now so that in a few years when you least expect it, the dots will connect up into something amazing.
The dots connect in different ways at different times in our lives. The same dot that might have led toward one conclusion in your 20s could redirect and lead toward another conclusion in your 30s because new dots were created in the intervening time that affect the way your dots connect. The possibilities are endless so long as you don’t look back when you arrive somewhere and decide that this was the final destination. Each dot is like a weigh station that leads you toward the next dot.
Because the connections between the dots can take different directions at any given time, you can connect those dots as they are presented to you at any point and then shift direction later when new dots open up more opportunities. Your constellation of dots should be expanding and rearranging themselves all the time.
Sometimes, it’s not obvious how the dots connect when you’re still fumbling around in the middle of a medley of dots that don’t make sense yet or you are still in the early stages of creating them. You must keep trusting that new, as yet unknown, dots will fill in the gaps to make the connections.
[to be continued]