‘Siri’ encourages students to embrace experiences as roadmap for success

November 09, 2018

A man stands at the front of a room talking to students.

Long before businessman Steve Obsitnik heard Siri’s voice in his head, he heard a call to challenge himself and change the way we think about technology.

Thanks to the student organization Bobcat Project Management, Obsitnik was able to share that story and other inspirational lessons from his life and career with business students on October 18 at Echlin Center.

“How we view the world gives us a unique competitive advantage,” said Obsitnik, dressed in jeans and a simple black shirt, “and our unique experiences are what enable us to see the world differently.”

Obsitnik’s career path has been nothing if not unique, taking him from nuclear submarines in the Arctic, to working in Silicon Valley and eventually running in Connecticut’s gubernatorial race.

The tech pioneer, telecom CEO and Navy veteran made a name for himself at California-based research center SRI International, where he was a member of the team that developed Siri, Apple’s iconic virtual assistant. He has also served as CEO at several technology companies and launched both Discern Communications and Quintel, a global provider of wireless infrastructure to mobile operators.

“Steve's experience speaks for itself,” said Amy Paros, assistant professor of management. “His visit allowed students to gain perspective from a truly innovative business leader as they look to understand and define their own careers."

Obsitnik currently serves as High Tech CEO of Saugatuck Advisory, an organization that works with companies to identify technology-focused market opportunities. He also sits on the boards of several other companies. A Westport native, he made a bid for the Republican candidacy in Connecticut’s 2018 gubernatorial race, ultimately losing to Bob Stefanowski.

These events illustrated the second of Obsitnik’s main points: that the path to finding your calling is seldom straight ahead, but rather, a winding road paved with successes and failures alike.

“Not all those who wander are lost,” said Obsitnik, borrowing a line from J.R.R. Tolkien. “Sometimes you’ve got to wander, let yourself go and create.”

Obsitnik followed with the importance of “compound interest” — giving ideas the time to develop and grow. He said big ideas don’t stem forth from a creative “big bang,” but are synthesized over time.

“There is almost nothing we can do that doesn’t already exist,” he said. “The key is system integration, how you pull different existing elements together to create something that others, especially competitors, couldn’t see.”

Obsitnik used Siri, as well as other famous Apple products, as examples of successful system integration. He insisted that this process — and entrepreneurship as a whole — is not a solo quest, but a “team sport.”

“It’s a myth that only one person does it all on their own and drives all of the innovation and change,” Obsitnik said.

According to Obsitnik, companies thrive with what he termed “genetic variety,” a diverse workforce of various backgrounds and talents. He closed his talk by advising students to surround themselves with the smartest, most talented people they can find.

“I always hang out with people who are smarter than me,” Obsitnik said. “Surrounding yourself with fast thinkers motivates you to work harder and think faster.”

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