The key trait Steve Jobs had that most lawyers don’t

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In a recent talk, author Malcolm Gladwell said that there was one trait that distinguished Steve Jobs more than any other. It wasn’t intelligence, creativity, or resources. It was a sense of urgency.

Gladwell told about the time Jobs saw the prototype for the first computer mouse and was told it was still in the very early stages of development. Jobs got excited and demanded his team build a mouse and graphical user interface, even though they told him it couldn’t be done. They did the impossible and the result was the Macintosh computer.

His sense of urgency made Jobs nearly impossible to work for, but heralded his monumental success. He approached life like a little kid, demanding what he wanted, when he wanted it, no matter the cost or risk.

His refusal to settle for anything less changed the world.

Lawyers are often demanding of themselves and others but I don’t think you could say we have a well-developed sense of urgency. We’re too caught up in the risks, the costs, and the illogical nature of doing the impossible. And yet each of us is capable of summoning this sense of urgency when we need it.

Look at what we’re able to accomplish in the days and hours leading up to a vacation. Weeks of work gets done, our desk tops are finally clean, and we’re able to delegate a mountain of tasks and responsibilities we were previously convinced nobody else could do.

Can a sense of urgency be developed? I think it can, but only if we are willing to re-evaluate our priorities. As long as “avoidance of risk” is job one, we’re never going to find out what we’re capable of. As long as “thoroughness” trumps immediacy, we’ll always find ourselves one step behind.

To develop our sense of urgency, we have to be willing to let go of our beliefs about what’s possible. Start with little things. If you believe something will take two weeks to complete, for example, set a deadline of one week and get it done. Once you believe in the impossible, your team will start believing.

Of course Jobs didn’t merely demand urgency, he also demanded near perfection. More often than not, he got it.

Was it because he believed that what he wanted was possible? Did he just declare what he wanted, hoping his team would figure out how to make it happen? Did he have a gift for seeing abilities in others they could not see in themselves? Did his team do the impossible because they didn’t want to suffer his wrath?

I don’t know. All I know is, life is short and without a sense of urgency, we will never truly know what’s possible.

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