Keeping the Passion to Innovate Alive by Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder

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One of the treats of attending large technology conferences is the opportunity to hear inspirational speakers. These are my notes from the keynote addresses from Bill Clinton and Stevie Wonder at this year’s Dreamforce.

Keeping the Passion Alive

A question posed to both speakers was that given their long, illustrious careers, how do they keep the passion alive to drive innovation year after year, decade after decade. This is an important topic for technology firms that try to keep the passion of a start-up in their firms as they grow into larger enterprises. Stevie answered, tongue-in-cheek, “You have to pay the bills.” to some amount of laughter. More seriously, both speakers said it was important to live with passion and be true to who you are. Stevie said, regarding his work, “Music is like life, You have to live with passion for live” and closed with “just be you … you are meant to be you” Bill remarked on several things that has kept his passion alive:

  • working on a large idea or concept,
  • doing something that you both like and are good at, and
  • having fun at what you are doing (variation of above).

It is no small accident that the most successful people are driven by passion for their work and not simply achieving a certain result. They just love what they are doing. Of course, in today’s global economy and the current recession, it is becoming more important than ever to find that kernel of who you are to differentiate yourself and possibly just pay the bills given the increased competition for jobs. Perhaps Stevie’s first answer is not so far off the mark.

Doing Great Work

The second big takeaway, was the importance of doing a great job no matter what you are doing. Bill mentioned that his foundation is working to help developing countries grow sustainably and to help build systems where people can get good results from good effort and you should strive for good work, no matter your economic condition. He said that “Being poor is not the same as being sloppy,” and also remarked that,

When you build things that work, good things happen. - Bill Clinton

For start-ups, it means that even when you may have few resources, you still need to put out a top notch product. Sometimes, you may need to cut back on features to ensure all the features you ship are top notch.

Great Work is Not Enough, You Have to Advertise!

Bill also lamented his party’s performance in this past mid-term elections. Specifically he mentioned that although his party had raised substantial funds, they did not use those funds to tell the story of their successes resulting in losing many more seats than were forecast and losing control of Congress. He did not blame their adversaries but looked within said that it was his party’s fault that the electorate simply were not informed of the great work that had been accomplished.

From a technology company perspective, this highlights the need for and importance of marketing to communicate the great product being built by the development teams. From a product management perspective, these are linked to drive a company and product’s success. The Pragmatic Marketing educational organization lists both product management and product marketing as product management disciplines. Reflecting on the importance of product management, they now list executive leadership as a product management discipline, a topic for another post.

Being Forever Young and The Business of Tomorrow

Looking at the US and its chances for remaining a dominant country with the rapid rise of countries such as China and India, Clinton mentioned that he liked America’s odds but that to be successful, the country needed to be forever young, that “we have to be a tomorrow country” and that the US needs to become a “Laboratory of Democracy” as a country, something once said of state governments.

We have to get back into the tomorrow business - Bill Clinton

Along with moving back into the tomorrow business, he said that “everyone’s job is to work themselves out of a job,” a key message that tomorrow’s jobs will be vastly different than today’s jobs. He highlighted in the move to IT jobs over the course of his Presidency when such jobs comprised just 8% of all jobs but 30% of job growth and 35% of income growth.

One way to apply this to the technology field is to look at the rate of relentless innovation at 34 year old Apple Computer which, according to the article, is driven by three key factors:

  • investing heavily in R&D
  • unafraid to cannibalize or kill its own products and
  • is able to extend its core technology across a host of different products to create a dominant ecosystem of consumer gadgets

These are similar to Bill’s approach on working one out of a job and being in the business of tomorrow.


The speakers were thought provoking and inspirational and I am glad to have been there. My article is certainly a selective approach to discussing these talks, however, I think this format presents some key messages from business, technology, and innovation perspectives. My thanks to the folks at for bringing us such great speakers.

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