Staying Hungry

During the June 2005 Stanford University commencement speech Steve Jobs famously cited the farewell message placed on the back cover of the 1974 edition of The Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

That’s a nice, pithy statement. I interpreted “Being Foolish” in a Quora answer as “being naive about how things should be and thus allowing oneself to see how things could be.”

But what about staying hungry?

A clue comes from the recent Fortune article “Inside Apple” (currently only available in print or as an app). Even with nearly $70 billion in liquidity Steve Jobs claims “Apple is a company that doesn’t have the most resources.” A former executive claims “We’ve always fought for resources…Steve and Tim in general want to be sure you need what you’re asking for.”

Note that “resources” here does not mean capital. It means people. Apple is very constrained in the number of people it has available to put on projects. The evidence is in the company’s operational expenses. They make up only 9.5% of sales (nearly an all time low). R&D in particular is only 2.4% of sales ($581 million).

Although R&D doubled in three years sales nearly double every year.

Looking at the totals over the last full year, the company spent about $2 billion on R&D. A remarkably efficient way to generate $47 billion in sales or $13.3b in operating income. Another way of thinking about it is that every dollar spent in engineering resulted in $23 in sales.

So the way to interpret the “stay hungry” metaphor is as a low cost structure. It has great advantages beside efficiency. There is a constant demand for focus and justification of spending. There is a certain level of cross-fertilization as people are assigned to varying projects to maximize their utilization. Finally, there are the subtle but powerful influences of hunger: motivation, invention and intense attention to details.

For Apple this aphorism seems to be more than a motivational poster quote.

  • Interesting insight. I believe it is an example how company values directly translate into operations and the P&L.

  • timnash

    Keep looking for the next meal is another interpretation. So far Apple has eaten sizable chunks of the music, computer, phone and electronics retail businesses. Is it any wonder Apple names updates of OS X after big cats?

    • Computer

  • addicted

    The greatest fear with Apple's size is that they will lose this "Stay hungry" mantra. MS suffered tremendously because of it, embarking on all sorts of projects with no idea how they were going to monetize it simply because their Windows and Office monopolies gave them the cash to do so.

    Google is going the MS, but fortunately for them, the online ad market is still growing fast, so it isn't getting criticized as it should (although, with the one-time hiring costs hurting their growth, finally questions started being raised).

    The question, Horace, is whether Apple can maintain this after SJ isn't actively involved.

    • asymco
    • Famousringo

      "The question, Horace, is whether Apple can maintain this after SJ isn't actively involved."

      If you read the Fortune article, it makes it clear that Jobs' top priority right now is building Apple into a legacy that embodies his own thoughts and values. Don't be concerned about whether Apple will be the same after Jobs is gone. Be concerned for the day when the Jobs doctrine stops being so successful.

    • 21tiger

      Ironically that only happens if there's no competition (or if the competition is so pathetic). Some downside.

  • jacquin

    How does a company set up the internal infrastructure to make sure that monies do not just get thrown at a wall in an effort to come up with new stuff??
    It is possible for Apple to have good habits because of the clarity of their focus. Anything that detracts from their focus has to be justified at some length before getting resources.
    This post does beg the question if Apple does have enough people to work on some of their projects; Mobile Me comes to mind. What fraction of Mac users pay the $100 a year that Mobile Me charges?? How will that number change if/when the price drops to some small fraction of that as is rumored??
    Did they get enough resources, how much will it matter to IOS in the future?
    What does "too hungry" look like.

    • Walt French

      “What does “too hungry” look like.”

      In my mind, cutting the ceiling down to “just high enough” is what chafes most to power users. The machine that’s perfectly tailored to the Apple vision of what you need but makes it impossible to go an inch farther.

      If Apple is to grow to a billion active users in 5 years, as I think they’re aimed at, there will be even more ruthless streamlining and unless there is a smooth continuum from the lowest cost “iPhone Nano” to the baddest Mac Pro, Apple’s mntra that “it is perfect only when there is nothing else that can be removed” will be its worst enemy.

  • CndnRschr

    It's a tricky balance though. The shift of programming "resources" to iOS starved progress on OS X (a fact admitted by the company). At some point, people become too stressed and leave (regardless of compensation levels). On the flip side, laser focus and a strong sense of direction permit people to see what they have to do. Nothing undermines productivity and job satisfaction more than an unclear view of the future.

    • claimchowder

      You are right about people leaving but let me take the opportunity to claim that programmer starvation on OSX in not that much of an issue. OSX will be reduced to an iOS app in the not too distant future. That's right: You press on the OSX icon on your iPad XXL, then you can use the mouse to work with your legacy OS.!/cover

      • CndnRschr

        I'm not so sure about that premise. iOS is a subset of OS X (it's more complicated than that but bear with me). The iOS-ification of OS X 10.7 is skin deep (use of common interface elements, organizational paradigms, etc) but this is meant to promote better segueing between iOS and OS X driven devices, not to substitute "iOS" on an OS X device. OS X has a much larger footprint, has multiple input and output modes, performs heavy lifting and has significantly more capable hardware in order to help it. iOS is light weight, stripped of unnecessary baggage, has a hidden directory, is optimized for touch input, etc. but is not geared for traditional hard core computation. Despite the fantastic growth and essential dependence of Apple on iOS devices compared with OS X, it is the latter that provides the superset of programming for iOS and the iOS tail will not be swinging the dog. It makes little sense to deprecate the mother system – especially when it that is where open source input is entirely derived. As we've seen in Webkit (especially as a driver of HTML5), this is the mechanism by which Apple can influence the market outside of its own sandbox.

      • claimchowder

        With Apple holding the IP for both iOS and OSX, both OSes coming from the same Mach roots, and the user interface very well abstracted in the object layer I honestly don't see a reason why any of this cannot be helped (except for the open sourcing you mentioned). Why could Apple not incorporate asynchronous I/O, Mach message ports, Grand Central etc. into iOS, thus making iOS just as powerful as OSX, then implement it on more capable hardware.

        The end result would be a successful step into next generation computing. IMHO that is exactly what Apple is after. They would be the only ones offering an utterly modern, cross-architecture compatible platform. Imagine: as modern as the iPad, yet still able to run your legacy OSX code :).

        The OSX app would obviously have to emulate the intel instruction set. But that would effectively give you OSX virtualisation for free, since you would just app-ify every OSX instance you needed. On the limited hardware on which we are running iOS today, using several instances of OSX emulation apps in parallel would be impossible. But on more capable future hardware iOS could do real multitasking, running your OSX box(es) in the background.

        I do agree that the current implementations of iOS are unable to do this. I am trying to see what's coming up in the next years.

      • CndnRschr

        I am not really interested in running my OS X apps on my iPad. They are not optimized for touch input. Apple is not interested in only selling me a new iPad every couple of years. They'd far rather I bought a laptop too. OS X programmers are not interested in having their apps ported to iOS for free when they can earn income from their own ports. Whole bunch of reasons why running OS X on iOS doesn't make sense (aside from the fact that ARM architecture is still 32-bit with 64 bit not due till 2013).

        The iPad is not a desktop/laptop substitute for most people (it could be for some). It's extending capabilities. Apple will merge the two lines at some point and have tweenie devices (that's seemingly the basis of the rumours around MBAs running on ARM) but that means iOS will inherit/incorporate more OS X code, not the other way around. iOS is OS X lite – nimble and touch optimized. Following Microsofts logic – where they are trying to adapt Windows to touch – would be a mistake IMHO.

      • claimchowder

        I value your comments very much, but remember I never claimed OSX would be running on an iPad. I claimed it would be running on more capable hardware, as an app in an extended iOS ("making iOS just as powerful as OSX, then implement it on more capable hardware").

        INSIDE the OSX emulation app you would use mouse and (obviously) keyboard input (bluetooth or virtual). The screen itself would look completely indistinguishable from today's OSX, with the app being full-screen anyway.

        I just see mainly *iOS* as Apple's future, not the relatively limited devices they initially rolled out (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) in order to make it into the market at all (by breaking the vicious circle of no apps->no customers->no developers->no apps). With iOS being Apple's future, iOS will IMHO scale up to much more capable devices. Emulating OSX on top is just a goodie that would have to come along in order to complete the transition.

        I hope that makes it clearer. Thanks for your criticism that made me work harder to make myself understood.

      • CndnRschr

        I see where you are coming from but I think our perspectives differ on which direction the convergence will come from. You are, in essence, suggesting an iPad Pro that will replace existing laptops (and perhaps iMacs). This may be a natural evolution of devices and markets but I think it'll be more a question of growing iOS to become more like OS X than vice versa. These are in essence the same operating systems within a scaled spectrum and while iOS runs on ARM and OS X runs on Intel, the division of application depends on the hardware format. What is the benefit to Apple to have OS X run on a future iPad? If it is purely to smooth transition from Intel processors, then it recapitulates the PowerPC -> Intel transition except not requiring interpreters, just re-compilation of additional code to run on ARM silicon. But what does that add? Why not simply recompile all of OS X for ARM? Then there is no need to run in emulation-mode. I'd argue that there is not much incentive to do this as Apple has options with the current plan – in that it's eggs are not all in the ARM basket. Intel may, at some point, get its low power chips to a point where the ARM lead is lost in which case, having iOS run on Intel silicon is an advantage. Apple is never going to subject itself to the whims of a single silicon foundry after the PowerPC episode. Choice is good.

      • Coward_the_Anonymous

        I think what claimchowder is claiming is that iOS will run not only on iPhone and iPad, but as well on MBP and MP with OSX being app for legacy apps until they fade away…

      • claimchowder

        Exactly.Thanks for putting it so concisely 🙂

      • Sander van der Wal

        Mach ports and Grand Central are part of iOS. I'm not sure about asynch I/O.

        Emulating OSX apps won't work, mainly because a couple of them are full programming systems that must be able to work outside all sandboxes. Developing for iOS itself is a case in point.

        I am well aware that most people do not need that capability, but without keeping on board the people who do need that capability you do not have a viable platform.

      • claimchowder

        I am not talking about a third party writing an emulator to run OSX apps on.
        I am talking about Apple writing an OSX (i.e. Operating System) emulator. Certainly Apple would be able to do that, as they have control over both OSes and can cross any sandbox border they would like.

        I am confident that Apple did not create its new, superior OS architecture and GUI to relegate it to just the mobile market and maybe add some of its benefits to OSX. I am confident they are striving for an all-iOS Apple ecosystem, with OSX being the legacy candidate.

        Think of the "OSX emulation app" as being like a VMWare running as an app on iOS. Of course Apple would have to write generic iOS drivers for all the OSX peripherals (mostly USB and Bluetooth) that need to be emulated. But that is not too hard to do, having IOKit on both platforms.
        The other part would be having to emulate the intel code along with the operating system. However, iOS and OSX are so closely related that the emulation could "catch" OSX system calls and translate them into iOS native system calls with relative ease. Same with AppKit and most other framework calls. Only the individual program logic would have to be emulated.

        OSX would have to be updated for this to work: The system frameworks must be modified to redirect calls to the underlying iOS's frameworks. But that is doable. Remember the days that Apple emulated Motorola code even inside the device drivers when they migrated to PowerPC? Heck, for years the classic MacOS's kernel(!) consisted of a mix of PPC and 680×0 code. Surely this kind of stuff can be done.

      • Walt French

        @CndnRschr, Apple HAS used compatibility boxes to bring old apps forward. But I see it going the other way because iOS hardware is so much more constrained than OSX hardware is, and will continue to be.

        Much more likely seems a continuum like an extension of today’s iPhone/iPad range where a dev can tune the app to work well with or without touchscreen, how much background work is expected, screen size, etc.

        Lion explicitly moves in this direction and however strong the halo effect, Apple will push it hard. This is the antithesis of the niche they have chafed in for years. It is the foundation that gives them more credibility when they go after cableTV or a proprietary wireless net or whatever else they decide to devour next.

      • claimchowder

        "@CndnRschr, Apple HAS used compatibility boxes to bring old apps forward. But I see it going the other way because iOS hardware is so much more constrained than OSX hardware is, and will continue to be."

        I know what you mean, but why do you think that iOS hardware will *continue to be* so much more constrained? What keeps Apple from releasing, let's say, a (non-mobile) iOS device with a 2560×1440 19"-display that stands at a relatively flat angle on your table, with a bluetooth keyboard for heavy typing? Yeah, right, a bit like those SciFi type boss tables.

        Now imagine this: this 19" sreen is full of apps. You can tap an app as usual to get the iOS generic Numbers, Pages, iMovie or whatnot. In full-screen mode of course.

        But you could also tap the OSX app, and you get your old, familiar Lion desktop, and your mouse works. Press the home button when you're done, and Lion goes back to sleep (or remains running in the background to enable server processes. Remember we're not running on batteries in this scenario, nor are we constrained to flash drives).

        I think this is a very compelling and sexy outlook, don't you? To me, it looks like it couldn't get any simpler from the user's point of view, while offering the oportunity to eventually get rid of the classic approach (mouse and windows) altogether. Blending the two OSes will inevitable lead to a kludgy result IMHO. That is not Apple's style.

      • Walt French

        @CndnRschr, look for iOS to grow (mostly, back) towards OSX as the hardware capabilities allow. IOS needs MORE services such as voice input to stay competitive, while OSX has the hardware to support more, too.

      • CndnRschr

        @Walt – I agree. claimchowder is arguing that iOS will bring OS X functionality to iPad-like devices. I think its more likely that iOS will phagocytose more of OS X as it's underlying hardware can start to take on more. It's interesting that the rumour mills are hinting that the North Carolina data centre will be running Nuance voice recognition hardware. This provides a path to allow basic clients (i.e. iOS devices) to off-load the heavy lifting tasks to big iron. This makes sense for transaction-based work (i.e. voice recognition, look-up, etc), less so for graphics processing (luckily, that is not an area the A5 chip is lacking).

  • poke


    “How many engineers does Microsoft have?” Page asked.

    About 25,000, he was told.

    “We should have a million,” Page said, in all seriousness.

    • iosweekly

      I think Google is quite possibly the biggest waste of human talent in recent history, they have spent billions of dollars recruiting the services of tens of thousands of the most intelligent people on the planet.

      And what has the result been? An increasingly better way to get ads infront of the worlds eyeballs.

      Think about what all those genius minds could be doing if not working on the search algorithim….

      (I'm sure some of their collective work has served humanity in some other way, but I can not think of anything off the top of my head – can you? serious question.)

      • r.d

        ads is how tv, radio, news paper, magazine business works.
        That is how citizens can be duped. So it has to be applied
        to the internet and be controlled by corporations.
        Radio and TV were suppose to be public airways when
        they first were introduced. That didn't last long so Internet
        will be co-opted by corporations. Google is just playing its role
        just like AT&T does and can get away with anything that it wants.

      • handleym

        Oh come on, this is unfair.
        Google has done some stupid things. That has to be balanced against the fact that Google search is astonishingly useful, likewise Maps and Earth are amazing projects. It's quite possible that Google Body could follow them (once political BS like the codec choices is sorted out). Likewise Books was (and is) a fantastic vision that is stymied by legal issues beyond Google's control.

        The fact that Google has to make money, and does it through ads, should not blind you to the fact that they are far more than just ads.

      • claimchowder

        As an author I am actually very happy that Books was stopped. They offered a whopping $60 for each book I published. Think I'm going to write another one?

        And those books only came out in 2006-2009, they are not legacy ones that have been long out of production.

      • Coward_the_Anonymous

        Google is at best "ignoring" IP rights by any available means (even in the name of freedom and access to cultural goods) trying to diminish value of "contents" just for extending…. their playing field (making more room for their ads).

        PS. I love Google fanboys claiming their Master give them free access to what thay entitled for, access to cultural goods.

      • handleym

        And of course, claimchowder, the world revolves around you. It's unimportant what might be best, in the long run, for the whole of humanity — the measure of all things should be nothing but “how does it affect claimchowder”.

      • WaltFrench

        Ha! Without challenging your premise I’ll mention picassa and gmail. Some very cle er features embedded therein.

  • r.d

    Steve Jobs was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and 60s counter culture
    movement. Also by Buddhism and his trip to India (he talks about it in
    the Playboy interview).
    So even though he is basically a libertarian corporatist (hates unions) his
    ethic comes from the 60s.

    So Stay hungry and stay foolish can be interpreted as 60s counter culture
    motto applied to corporations. giving soul to the soulless.

    • Gert

      Yes, but Apple does it with an amount of discipline and commitment that is opposite to the 60s counter culture.

      I guess practicing Buddhism (or any religion or spiritual teaching) and sharing the fruits is quite the opposite of idolizing it.

    • Peter Evans

      I am interested in his hatred of unions. Do you have any further info on that? Much appreciated.

  • handleym

    I think the real issue here is that Jobs really, truly, understands that you cannot speed up software projects by throwing more people at them. There are many many managers who will quote you "The Mythical Man Month" but very few of them seem to actually live that philosophy, especially when money is not an issue.
    (And let's not forget, Pixar seems to operate by the same philosophy.)

    It WOULD be interesting to know just what Jobs' experience with software disaster was that led him to this belief. I can't really think of one — so did he get here purely by intelligent observation of Apple without him (Taligent, Pink, PowerTalk, QD GX etc etc), MS, etc? (And one might reasonably add Google to this list.)

    • chandra

      It may have been by observing the OS9 evolution to nowhere debacle.
      It may have been living through the NextStep genesis

  • unhinged

    I think Steve Jobs has simply matured his approach using the lessons he learned from his first stint at Apple, at NeXT and at Pixar. Find the most important ideas and pursue those. Push people as hard as they can be pushed (himself most definitely included). Then move on to the next thing.

    From what I have read, Steve was always, uh, careful about spending money (see for a less circumspect description) and from a relatively young age very driven to create and ship a finished product. I don't know that you could point to a specific incident and say that it traumatised him into such a strong realisation of how things work that he has his current near-fanatical approach.

  • George Slusher

    I would disagree with Horace. Jobs said that the slogan came, not from him, but from "The Whole Earth Catalog." (Some of us may be old enough to remember this.) It's the way the Catalog ended its last issue. The slogan had nothing to do with business, per se, and everything to do with personal attitude. It means that one shouldn't be satisfied. Listen to Jobs' speech. VERY little (actually, next to nothing) is about business–it's about his personal ethos. Also consider the audience: the Stanford graduates. He wasn't telling them HOW to approach their careers, but WHY.

    • asymco

      The first paragraph I wrote:

      "During the June 2005 Stanford University commencement speech Steve Jobs famously cited the farewell message placed on the back cover of the 1974 edition of The Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

      Personal attitude is the core to success in business.

  • Pingback: links for 2011-05-09 :: Blog :: Headshift()

  • chandra

    Horace, I think you are too much a numbers man.
    What's happening to Apple isn't about chasing ratios or the YOY beauty parade.
    It's not about the numbers.
    It is all about mindset and individual attitudes and outlooks on life.
    Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

    Stay hungry?
    You say: So the way to interpret the “stay hungry” metaphor is as a low cost structure. It has great advantages beside efficiency. There is a constant demand for focus and justification of spending….(numbers, targets, numbers again Horace).

    But that isn't correct, imo.

    The expression 'Stay hungry' means the same thing the world over.
    It means never become complacent as if your stomach was full and all was well and you have time to relax. Always be interested in where the next important thing is and where it is coming from – just as if it was your last meal. Always think like the one beginning a journey, with everything to be gained or lost in front of you. Never take the path you are on for granted as being the right one to follow.

    In every company that is well-managed, free resources are scarce and especially manpower. That is about staying 'lean' not staying hungry. Hungry is a state of mind where you always want and expect more out of what you and others do. The pursuit is the reward, not the outcome. Outcomes are the end of effort. They are the triggers of complacency and disengagement. The pursuit is what matters. It is unending. It gives life meaning and purpose. You can never be satisfied with that kind of hunger. Because it is about emotional drive and not about numbers or performance stats. The hungry person hasn't the time to wait for the bean counters to report on performance or results. The only feedback needed is one's own assessment of what's been done – and what is needed next – from moment to moment. Time and quality are the challenge. Never take either for granted. Use one well to gain the other. Simple but merciless regime described there. It's not about money or numbers. Take care of business and the money and numbers will come in right anyway. They will surprise you.

    That is staying hungry as I see it.

    And it explains Apple's singular secret of success, that none other possesses. Even after 40 years, the whole company has the mindset of a startup entrepreneur. There is no time to sit on your hands and grin to yourself like a contented Cheshire cat. Hunger is the crucible of achievement. Complacency is the death of hunger.

    And foolish?
    Foolish enough to dream BIG dreams.
    Foolish enough never to be swayed from the belief that anything is possible.
    Foolish enough to cleave always towards modesty as, if you begin to be impressed with yourself, you are done for and there is nowhere left to journey beyond your own measure of excellence achieved.
    We see so many signs that too much education kills the risk-taker in all of us. We cease to be foolish and so we build our forecasts and projections and they frighten us into immobility and fear. But the foolish ones don't think too much on the consequences and possible negative outcomes, they go out in blissful, hopeful, optimistic and striving ignorance and they make things happen.
    A hungry fool has all that is needed to single-mindedly overcome anything that stands in the way of making dreams into reality.
    Numbers people are accustomed to deride the hungry fools of the world; the dreamers who can 'make it so'.
    I used to be an accountant until an operations colleague stung me by saying to me: 'Chandra, you accountants are like reporters. You write the story of what happened with the numbers. But it is we, the hungry doers, who go out into the field and make those numbers real'. I had no answer to that and I fell out of interest for accounting and finance.
    Those who can, do!
    Those who can't, merely write about it.
    There are more than a few sharp life lessons for any wannabe hungry fool in these simple ideas.
    Now, stick that in your P/E ratio and smoke it!
    Steve Jobs is perhaps the definitive hungry fool.
    Never factor out emotion from performance.
    Just my 2p worth Horace.

    Chandra Coomaraswamy

    • asymco

      Numbers never tell the whole story. However without data, arguments are seldom persuasive. No major decision should be made on numbers alone.

  • chandra

    I guess that what I am saying is that you cannot chart the metrics for emotion as a driver of performance.
    I guess that what I am saying is that you can chart the rule, but not the exception. So don't even try. That is the wrong kkind of foolish.
    I guess that what I am saying is the reason why Wall Street and potential investors suppress the expression of Apple's true value is because their beliefs are driven by numbers and stats and not by the realities of the disciplines of hunger and foolishness. Anything is possible. Even corporate performance that defies belief, can be believed.
    Look at the terminal 'complacents' among us in the corporate world.
    J T Wang.
    Eric Schmidt
    Sanjay Jha
    Fiorina and Hurd
    Jerry Shen
    Jen-Hsun Huang.
    Jon Rubinstein.
    Ed Colligan
    Shantanu Narayen
    and thousands more.
    Driven to distraction by focussing on numbers and ratios and embracing complacency.
    And the too-soon-sated, smugly self-satisfied (about no real achievement) bozo dweebs like Vic Gundotra.
    They are not foolish.
    They have never known hunger.
    What say you?

  • chandra

    A final clarification afterthought.
    I said: The pursuit is the reward, not the outcome.
    What does this mean?
    Well do you think that Jobs and his engineers still gaze at the iPad 2 in wonder at its dazzling awesomeness?
    What Jobs may be focussed on today (briefly, and among a host of other things, I guess) is iPhone 8 and iPad 6.
    iPad 2 and iPhone 5 are in the bag. They are already history to Jobs.
    This man never takes the time to sit on his hands.
    He is on a foolish, hungry mission and he has a team of fellow adherents to his cause.

  • Phu Nguyen

    Life in terms of path search:

    Stay Hungry: don't stick at a local optima for too long.
    Stay Foolish: once in a while, make a random jump from the path you're currently taking.

  • N8nNC

    I'll add my zen perspective:

    Stay hungry: Recognize your need to eat, eat when you feel hunger. Don't eat so much so often that you never feel hungry, let your tummy empty. Make products that bring joy to users, sell them for a profit, kill them when you can make something better. Remember your original motive, don't let a cash cow change your mission.

    Stay foolish: Recognize that you are mistaken, you just don't know in what way – any action needs to be subjected to the foolishness test. Don't fear mistakes so much that your actions never fail the foolishness test. Be audacious enough to aim to change the world, don't allow yourself to think you can control the change you bring about.

  • anon

    An interesting, tangential discussion to this from Ritholtz regarding being hungry, innovation, suppression of it, and disruption (likely you've seen this already…?)