The Wisdom of Woz: 4 Lessons to Learn from Steve Wozniak


Think different. That’s been Apple’s challenge to the world for decades.

Steve “Woz” Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, is an engineer at heart who has spent his life solving technology problems. Since he was a little boy, he was fascinated with what technology can do to change the world. He’s exemplified what it means to “think different.”

I had the privilege to host a fireside chat with Woz at our inaugural Good Tech Summit, and we talked about a wide range of topics.

Here are four takeaways from my conversation with him:

  • Don’t be afraid of change
  • Always be generous with your talents
  • Build fun into every part of your life
  • Never forget the human element

Here’s how we can apply these lessons to our work in advocacy and civic engagement.

Don’t be afraid of change.

“Every time we create new technology, it’s change,” Woz said during our chat. Change can be scary but can also make things better by opening the door to new opportunities.

Civic technology has expanded the ways in which we can connect with elected officials—Facebook, Twitter, Alexa, Snapchat and more. But these new ways of connecting don’t replace traditional ways, they just expand the possibilities of interaction and give constituents more choices.

What new technology allows us to do is give people more options as to how they can engage. People who don’t have the time to go to a rally can still get involved by taking action on their phones or sending a message via social media to a lawmaker.

Rallies won’t disappear. But today a digital Twitter chat is as powerful as thousands of people with signs in their hands.

What’s more, technology has equalized the relationship between constituents and their lawmakers. In the past communications with lawmakers were one way street —because they were not public the lawmaker did not have to respond. Today, thanks to social media advocacy, lawmakers don’t control communications. Instead, constituents have the power to initiate conversations. They need no permission to engage.

Why Leading Brands are Embracing Grassroots Activism

Advocacy has not changed in principle but technology has changed the behavior of constituents and empower the civic appetite inside of each one of us. Civic technology is the result of our natural evolution as constituents that should be embraced, not feared.




Always be generous with your talents.

Woz is the epitome of generosity. Throughout his entire career, he’s been known not only for his technological genius, but for giving away his ideas and designs when he thinks others could put them to good use.

“I was inspired by the social movements that [technology] would bring,” Woz said, “So I built my first computer and passed it away for free, so everyone could build it and help start this revolution…I believed in open source so much that I made a teaching manual. We sent people the ‘Wozpack,’ full of all my designs and hardware that I’d done.”

Woz demonstrated that generosity, whether it be with your talents or with your work product, is part of living a full and complete life.

For those of us in civic technology, generosity is crucial to the success of our industry long-term. Civic tech is a new field, which means that we are all writing history together. All of us can take a lesson from Woz and start sharing and exchanging ideas, case studies and stories of successful campaigns. This is how we learn from each other.

Woz could have kept his designs for himself but he was inspired by a shared vision that the personal computer could help address world problems.  The personal computer has dramatically changed the way we work and learn today and has helped address many challenges in education and every field.  He was a visionary and people in advocacy using civic tech tools are too.

People in civic technology share a vision that technology can help amplify a person’s voice and effect change.  We are at a moment in time and every technology contribution to advocacy is helping this new industry grow and expand. Shared learning will take this new field to the next level.

Build fun into every part of your life.

Something we often forget about engineers is that they are very creative individuals in close touch with their humanity.  Woz love for engineering also reflected his love for people. He believed tech was human and humor is part of being human.

Woz was so set on finding out how to get the most out of life that he followed his self-created formulas. When he was in college, his formula for happiness was H = S – F. That translates to “happiness equals smiles minus frowns.”

While he was in college, Woz had the reputation for being quite the prankster. One story he told where he used one of the phones he built to call the Vatican from his dorm at Berkeley. When one of the Bishops picked up the phone, he said, “I’d like to speak to the Pope. This is Henry Kissinger.” Kissinger was Secretary of State to President Nixon at the time.

They asked why he called. He said, “I just want to make a confession.”

After college, Woz changed his formula because he believed that fun should always be built into every part of life. The new formula was:  H =  F3. That translates to “happiness equals food (the necessities of life) times friends times fun.”

“I built fun into every part of my life,” Woz said. “Whatever you do that’s work and productive stuff, you should always have fun, and that should just be a part of life.”

So how do we build fun and creativity into advocacy work?

At a time where there is skepticism about news, personal stories have renewed credibility. The days when advocacy emails were dry and full of legislative details are over. The legislative jargon is replaced by personal stories. Use your advocate stories to convey your message. Storytelling is powerful.

Make your campaigns engaging. Use videos, gifs, and memes. A picture conveys a thousand words and a gif also conveys a smile. Build fun into your campaigns.

Why the Best Grassroots Campaigns use Social Media 


Never forget the human element.

“The human is more important than the technology,” Woz said. “Always keep things easy. Make things more human.”

In building the personal computer, Woz was thinking about building communities and drive positive change.  It was a lot less about the computer itself and more about the power that the computer would bring to each individual and then what individuals could do together to achieve a common goal.

Advances in civic technology have brought great recognition of the power of a single person. In the past when we thought about advocacy and movements, we thought about large numbers of people. But today, one story, one person can be a movement.  

Advocacy today starts with the recognition that every individual’s voice matters. A one-size-fits-all advocacy campaign will not motivate all your advocates to act. Some will answer your emails, others your texts. Some will prefer to call their lawmakers, others would prefer to engage with legislators via social media.

One way to recognize the humanity in digital advocacy campaigns is by emphasizing that each person is different and may take action differently. Create campaigns that are diverse in the ways that they engage advocates and meet your advocates (as well as lawmakers) where they are.

Always remember the human element. Build your campaigns and strategies with the individual in mind. Civic Technology is Human.

Click here to see the full fireside chat with Steve Wozniak.


Subscribe for Updates

Get the latest government affairs trends, best practices and news, right in your inbox.

Leave a Comment