Tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki uses grit to change the world
<p>Guy Kawasaki, best-selling author and keynote speaker for Seattle Pacific University’s 2019 Downtown Business Breakfast, has a nontraditional approach to hiring: The imperfect candidate is often the best employee.</p>

Kawasaki has years of experience backing this philosophy. He currently works as chief evangelist at Canva, a graphic design company. He has also been chief evangelist at Apple, where he marketed the original Macintosh computer. He speaks around the world and has written 14 books on topics related to business and technology; his most recent book, Wise Guy (Portfolio, 2019), was published in February.

Kawasaki’s leadership lessons

What are three key behaviors of a great leader?

1. They hire people better than themselves.

2. They establish high standards for everyone — including themselves.

3. They never appear to have a “down” day, even though you know they do.

What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to become a better leader?

I recommend reading If You Want to Write (, 2018) by Brenda Ueland; Mindset (Random House, 2006) by Carol Dweck; Drive (Riverhead, 2009) by Daniel Pink; and The Effective Executive (HarperCollins, 1967) by Peter Drucker. And look up “premortem Gary Klein” on Google to learn how to increase the probability of a successful product launch.

How should we develop the next generation of leaders in our fields?

Look beyond gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, where the person went to college, and what company he or she worked at. Look for people who “get it,” love what you do, and enjoy working hard. The rest will work out.

His Business Breakfast talk focused on leading through the technological revolution — an endeavor that seems to depend on having the strongest team possible.

Building a good team requires a leader to focus on a few essential qualities, Kawasaki said in an interview. 

“Focus on competency and work ethic — and subjugate, if not ignore — educational pedigree and work experience,” he said. “In other words, give people who don’t have the perfect educational and professional background a chance.”

Another Kawasaki-ism: Good leaders hire great talent, and are not afraid to be outshone by their employees.

“Hire people who are better than you are, and get out of their way,” Kawasaki said. “You should look around and conclude that you may be the least competent person in the room. This means you are probably a great leader.”

Today, Kawasaki applies leadership lessons he’s learned to the work of democratizing computers, design, and knowledge, and speaking internationally to leading companies around the world about innovation, entrepreneurship, and social media.

Kawasaki — who is married to Beth Thompson Kawasaki ’82, Seattle Pacific’s 2018 Alumna of the Year — joined Canva in April 2014. In his role, Kawasaki is dedicated to promoting the brand and “bringing the good news” that it is possible for people to create their own effective graphics without buying or learning high-end applications. 

Canva provides design tools to teachers, bloggers, nonprofits, and small business owners. People around the world use Canva to create and edit more than 2.5 million images per day. Kawasaki’s job is to promote the brand every chance he gets and build up support for Canva and its offerings.

Every great leader possesses a certain personality trait, despite circumstance, background, and experience, he said. Kawasaki calls this mentality “grinding.” He says he attacks a situation and keeps at it longer and harder than most people, grinding and buffing until a job is done.

This approach to work may hearken to Kawasaki’s childhood. He grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he says he was the lucky recipient of a “solid family, great education,” and being “in the right places at the right times.”     

He wants to see Canva established as a standard in the technology industry in 2019, and he is passionate about sharing the products with others. He also seeks to have a healthy work-life balance, though, and one of his big goals for 2019 is more personal: He wants to surf head-high waves.   

This article originally appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Response with the headline, “Tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki uses grit to change the world.”

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