The Greatest Speeches in History: Tim Cook and His Auburn University Commencement Speech 2010

The Greatest Speeches in History is a weekly column that compiles the most memorable speeches in history with the goal to emphasize on the power of public speaking, to illustrate its importance, impact, and necessity to master.

Each and every one of these speeches, delivered by some of the most famous, successful and memorable people in the world, are great examples of the power of public speaking and the art of oratory.

This week we take a closer look at Apple’s CEO Tim Cook’s Commencement Speech at Auburn University. Here are the most important outtakes from his address, delivered on May 14, 2010, when he was Apple’s COO at that time:

“My most significant discovery so far in my life was the result of one single decision: My decision to join Apple. Working at Apple was never in any plan that I’d outlined for myself, but was without a doubt the best decision that I ever made. There have been other important decisions in my life, like my decision to come to Auburn.”

“While Apple did make Macs, the company had been losing sales for years and was commonly considered to be on the verge of extinction. Only a few months before I’d accepted the job at Apple, Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell Computer, was publicly asked what he would do to fix Apple, and he responded “I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” In making this statement what distinguished Michael Dell was only that he had the courage to say what so many others believed.”

“In making the decision to come to Apple, I had to think beyond my training as an engineer. Engineers are taught to make decisions analytically and largely without emotion. When it comes to a decision between alternatives we enumerate the cost and benefits and decide which one is better. But there are times in our lives when the careful consideration of cost and benefits just doesn’t seem like the right way to make a decision. There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate–when a particular course of action just feels right. And interestingly I’ve discovered it’s in facing life’s most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable to getting it right.”

“In turning important decisions over to intuition one has to give up on the idea of developing a life plan that will bear any resemblance to what ultimately unfolds. Intuition is something that occurs in the moment, and if you are open to it. If you listen to it has the potential to direct or redirect you in a way that is best for you.”

“Too often people think about intuition as the same as relying on luck or faith. At least as I see it, nothing could be further from the truth. Intuition can tell you that of the doors that are open to you, which one you should walk through. But intuition cannot prepare you for what’s on the other side of that door. Along these lines, a quote that has always resonated with me is one by Abraham Lincoln. He said, “I will prepare, and someday my chance will come.” I have always believed this.”

“In business as in sports, the vast majority of victories are determined before the beginning of the game.”

“If you are prepared, when the right door opens then it comes down to just one more thing: Make sure that your execution lives up to your preparation.

“So those are my discoveries on the significance of intuition, preparation, and hard work. For me they give rise to a simple principle for the most important decisions in your life: Trust your intuition and then work with everything you have to prove it right.

“To all of you who doubt yourselves, I have been there too, and although today I’ve spent time talking about a great decision, I’ve made some that are far from it. And like many of you I’ve had my share of life’s personal challenges and failures. But after many miles on my journey I recognize that each of these difficult periods of life passes, and with each we exit stronger and wiser. The old saying “This, too, shall pass” has certainly proven true for me and I’m sure it’ll hold true for anyone who believes it.”


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