Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook made this commencement speech at Auburn University on May 14, 2010.

“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 it has the potential to direct or redirect you in a way that is best for you. On that day in early 1998 I listened to my intuition, not the left side of my brain or for that matter even the people who knew me best. It’s hard to know why I listened, I’m not even sure I know today, but no more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve Jobs, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple. My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius, and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company. If my intuition had lost the struggle with my left brain, I’m not sure where I would be today, but I’m certain I would not be standing in front of you.

This was a surprising lesson. I recall how uncertain I was at my own commencement about where my life would lead. There was a part of me that very much wanted to have a 25-year plan as a guide to life. When I went to business school we even had an exercise to do a 25-year plan. I found mine, now 22 years old, in preparing for this commencement address. Let’s just say it wasn’t worth the yellowed paper it was written on. I didn’t understand it then as a young MBA student, but life has a habit of throwing you curve balls. Don’t get me wrong–it’s good to plan for the future, but if you’re like me and you occasionally want to swing for the fences you can’t count on a predictable life. But even if you can’t plan, you can prepare. A great batter doesn’t know when the high-hanging curve ball is going to come, but he knows it will. And he can prepare for what he will do when he gets it.

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 some day my chance will come.” I have always believed this. It was this basic belief that led me to Auburn to study industrial engineering, led me to co-op alternating quarters while attending Auburn, led me to Duke to study business, and led me to accept so many jobs and assignments that are too numerous to mention.

In business as in sports, the vast majority of victories are determined before the beginning of the game. We rarely control the timing of opportunities, but we can control our preparation. 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.

As current events teach us, those who try to achieve success without hard work ultimately deceive themselves, or worse, deceive others. I have the good fortune to be surrounded by some brilliant, intuitive thinkers who create the most elegant and extraordinary products in the world. For all of us intuition is not a substitute for rigorous thinking and hard work: It is simply the lead-in. We never take shortcuts. We attend to every detail. We follow where curiosity leads, aware that the journey may be longer but will ultimately be more worthwhile. We take risks knowing that risk will sometimes result in failure. But without the possibility of failure, there is no possibility of success. We remember Albert Einstein’s words: “insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” When you put it all together, I know this: Intuition is critical in virtually everything you do, but without relentless preparation, and execution, it is meaningless.

I think it is misleading to talk about success without also referencing failure. I know of no one who has achieved something significant without also in their own lives experiencing their share of hardship, frustration, and regret. So don’t believe that something in your past prevents you from doing great work in the future. 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.

So paint in your mind the most grand vision where you want to go in life. Prepare, trust in, and execute on your intuition. And don’t get distracted by life’s potholes.”

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