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Apple's former CEO shares the secret to success that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates taught him

John Sculley, Former CEO, Apple, on the centre stage during Day 1 of the 2014 Web Summit in the RDS, Dublin, Ireland.
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There are few guarantees of success in this world. But your best chance of achieving it is by choosing a "purpose-driven life," says former Apple CEO and longtime business veteran, John Sculley.

Sculley has called on young people to heed a lesson he learned from tech icons Steve Jobs and Bill Gates some 40 years ago.

"My advice to you is ... (to) choose a purpose-driven life," the 80-year-old said in a recent address to graduates of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Sculley said his eyes were first opened to the idea of finding "purpose" in the 1980's. At that time, both Jobs and Gates were working on their respective "noble causes" of empowering people through technology.

"'Noble causes' were words I had never heard before," recalled Sculley, who was famously lured from Pepsi to Apple in 1983 when Jobs asked him "You want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?"

But discovering and working toward a purpose has now become more important than ever, said Sculley. That's because the pace of change has sped up and with it, the way we work, he told CNBC Make It.

"If you're a young person entering the workforce, you're now in exponential times," said Sculley.

"In the past, people would just sit in," he said, referring to the old, operational nature of work.

"Today, it's more possible to have a purpose-driven life," Sculley continued, saying that it's now easier to work entrepreneurially and imagine and implement new ideas, regardless of where you are in your career.

American businessman Steve Jobs (L), Chairman of Apple Computers, and John Sculley, Apple's president, pose with the new Macintosh personal computer, New York City.
Marilyn K. Yee | New York Times Co. | Getty Images
Finding purpose

Of course, finding your purpose can be easier said than done, noted Sculley — especially for those just entering the workforce.

Sculley recommended honing the right characteristics to get there. Namely, acquiring an "insatiable curiosity" about the world and opening your mind to its infinite opportunities.

"You've got to have a huge curiosity and open your mind to the possibilities of things that could exist," said Sculley.

Those are traits that Sculley said he tried to embrace when he was CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993, and in his current role as a tech investor and entrepreneur advisor.

They're also skills he said he sees in Gates' successor, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. "He's a superb listener and he has an open mind," Sculley said of the 51-year-old Nadella.

But, Sculley also said you shouldn't worry if you're not there yet, or if you faced stumbling blocks along the way.

"There's a very thin line between success and failure," said Sculley. "Just because someone's successful, it doesn't mean they were that much different (to anyone else). Failure is very important in one's growth too."

Don't miss: Former Apple CEO John Sculley reveals the skill that made Steve Jobs a 'brilliant' leader

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John Sculley, Former CEO, Apple, on the centre stage during Day 1 of the 2014 Web Summit in the RDS, Dublin, Ireland.
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