There are Silicon Valley legends and then there’s Guy Kawasaki.
Kawasaki, who lives by the personal mantra “I empower people,” is perhaps best known for his pivotal efforts to speed adoption of Apple’s early Macintosh computer.
Kawasaki has gone on to build a career as a best-selling author, indefatigable keynote speaker and consultant to numerous technology startups.
Making Good and Doing Good
Raised in a tough neighborhood in Honolulu, Kawasaki is the son of a housewife and firefighter who “made many sacrifices” to provide him with the finest possible education.
Kawasaki has paid that early faith forward many times over by earning a BA from Stanford University, an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, an honorary doctorate from Babson College and writing 13 books.
Kawasaki is currently Chief Evangelist at Canva, a Sydney, Australia-based online graphics design startup and finds time to serve as an Executive Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and serve on the board of the Peninsula Humane Society.
Kawasaki sat down with CMSWire recently to share his thoughts on how to become an empowered product evangelist, inspire vision and innovation and avoid the “bozos” who go through life intent on robbing your entrepreneurial spirit.
Sobel: While you are known as one of the original Macintosh guys, I’d like to start back when you attended the Iolani School in Honolulu. It strives to provide “a spiritual foundation for the development of personal values and moral integrity." Can you share a bit of how that educational experience ― as well as your time at Stanford and UCLA ― has impacted your life and career?
Kawasaki: Iolani was a magical place. It gave me a fantastic high school education that prepared me for college and the rest of my life. In particular, my English teacher, Harold Keables and two football coaches were humongous influences in my life. Stanford and UCLA were also big contributors to my success. I am so fortunate that my parents made such sacrifices so that I could attend all three schools.
Sobel: After receiving your MBA, you started out working for a fine-jewelry manufacturer “counting and schlepping diamonds.” Then, in 1983, your college roommate got you a job working for Steve Jobs at a little company called Apple Computer. You became its Software Evangelist with a mission to “convince developers to create [products] for a new computer that had “a zero installed base, zero backward compatibility and zero [monthly sales.]” Was that quite a challenge?
Kawasaki: I like to tell people it was a big challenge so that they respect my work more, but it wasn’t actually that hard. That’s because Macintosh was such a great computer that getting companies to write software for it wasn’t that tough. Admittedly, it was harder to get companies to finish the software, but that was because of the incompleteness of the development environment back then.
It was during this time that I began to formulate the concept of product evangelism that I now call “Guy’s Golden Touch.” Now this wasn’t the hallucination that whatever I touched turned to gold. Rather, it was the realization that I should try to touch whatever is gold because the key to evangelism is to align yourself with something great. It’s easy to evangelize great stuff. It’s very hard to evangelize crap.
Sobel: Your recent Top Ten Tips for Innovation presentation urged companies to make meaning versus money, craft a three-word mantra in place of a mission statement and “jump to the next curve” to drive innovation beyond current products and services. You closed with an eleventh bonus point: "Don’t let the bozos grind you down.” Can you elaborate?
Kawasaki: My theory is that true innovation happens when you jump to the next curve of your industry, for example, going from telegraph to telephone to VOIP or from the PC era to the Internet. Often though, when you try to make these kinds of leaps, people will line up to tell you that what you’re attempting can’t be done, shouldn’t be done or isn’t really necessary. These negative reactions are what I define as “bozosity” and I recommend avoiding bozos whenever possible.
Sobel: You advise a long list of companies including Australian graphic design startup Canva, and serve on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. You also co-founded Alltop, one of the first digital content aggregators. Is there a common thread that runs through your many projects?
Kawasaki: I’m more than an advisor to Canva. I hold the title of Chief Evangelist. The only other company where I served in such a role was at Apple. In both of those cases, I believe the companies are “denting the universe” to borrow a phrase from Steve Jobs. Just as Apple has democratized computing, and Wikimedia has democratized knowledge, I think Canva is democratizing design.
Sobel: Do you have any plans to slow down, and if not, what’s next that you’d like to share with us?
Kawasaki: I have four kids, the youngest of whom is ten. Big tuition bills are what’s next for me. So even if I wanted to, there’s no foreseeable way that I plan to slow down anytime soon.