It’s been two years since I read Becoming Steve Jobs. That’s about the time I wanted to get to the official biography written by Walter Isaacson. Happily, I did, here are some gold nuggets from this great piece of work.
A clever kid
The chip industry gave the region a new name when Don Hoefler, a columnist for the weekly trade paper Electronic News, began a series in January 1971 entitled “Silicon Valley USA.” The forty-mile Santa Clara Valley, which stretches from South San Francisco through Palo Alto to San Jose, has as its commercial backbone El Camino Real, the royal road that once connected California’s twenty-one mission churches and is now a bustling avenue that connects companies and startups accounting for a third of the venture capital investment in the United States each year. “Growing up, I got inspired by the history of the place,” Jobs said. “That made me want to be a part of it.”
Like most kids, he became infused with the passions of the grown-ups around him. “Most of the dads in the neighborhood did really neat stuff, like photovoltaics and batteries and radar,” Jobs recalled. “I grew up in awe of that stuff and asking people about it.” The most important of these neighbors, Larry Lang, lived seven doors away. “He was my model of what an HP engineer was supposed to be: a big ham radio operator, hard-core electronics guy,” Jobs recalled. “He would bring me stuff to play with.” As we walked up to Lang’s old house, Jobs pointed to the driveway. “He took a carbon microphone and a battery and a speaker, and he put it on this driveway. He had me talk into the carbon mike and it amplified out of the speaker.” Jobs had been taught by his father that microphones always required an electronic amplifier. “So I raced home, and I told my dad that he was wrong.”
“No, it needs an amplifier,” his father assured him. When Steve protested otherwise, his father said he was crazy. “It can’t work without an amplifier. There’s some trick.”
“I kept saying no to my dad, telling him he had to see it, and finally he actually walked down with me and saw it. And he said, ‘Well I’ll be a bat out of hell.’”
Jobs recalled the incident vividly because it was his first realization that his father did not know everything. Then a more disconcerting discovery began to dawn on him: He was smarter than his parents. He had always admired his father’s competence and savvy. “He was not an educated man, but I had always thought he was pretty damn smart. He didn’t read much, but he could do a lot. Almost everything mechanical, he could figure it out.” Yet the carbon microphone incident, Jobs said, began a jarring process of realizing that he was in fact more clever and quick than his parents. “It was a very big moment that’s burned into my mind. When I realized that I was smarter than my parents, I felt tremendous shame for having thought that. I will never forget that moment.” This discovery, he later told friends, along with the fact that he was adopted, made him feel apart—detached and separate—from both his family and the world.
Aversion to authority
It was no coincidence that Steve’s team at apple later identified as pirates. He was a rebel by nature which gave him trouble at school.
Even before Jobs started elementary school, his mother had taught him how to read. This, however, led to some problems once he got to school. “I was kind of bored for the first few years, so I occupied myself by getting into trouble.” It also soon became clear that Jobs, by both nature and nurture, was not disposed to accept authority. “I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”
His school, Monta Loma Elementary, was a series of low-slung 1950s buildings four blocks from his house. He countered his boredom by playing pranks. “I had a good friend named Rick Ferrentino, and we’d get into all sorts of trouble,” he recalled. “Like we made little posters announcing ‘Bring Your Pet to School Day.’ It was crazy, with dogs chasing cats all over, and the teachers were beside themselves.” Another time they convinced some kids to tell them the combination numbers for their bike locks. “Then we went outside and switched all of the locks, and nobody could get their bikes. It took them until late that night to straighten things out.” When he was in third grade, the pranks became a bit more dangerous. “One time we set off an explosive under the chair of our teacher, Mrs. Thurman. We gave her a nervous twitch.”
Not surprisingly, he was sent home two or three times before he finished third grade. By then, however, his father had begun to treat him as special, and in his calm but firm manner he made it clear that he expected the school to do the same. “Look, it’s not his fault,” Paul Jobs told the teachers, his son recalled. “If you can’t keep him interested, it’s your fault.” His parents never punished him for his transgressions at school. “My father’s father was an alcoholic and whipped him with a belt, but I’m not sure if I ever got spanked.” Both of his parents, he added, “knew the school was at fault for trying to make me memorize stupid stuff rather than stimulating me.” He was already starting to show the admixture of sensitivity and insensitivity, bristliness and detachment, that would mark him for the rest of his life.
Spirituality, not dogma
Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”
The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”
Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”
“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”
Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church. He did, however, spend years studying and trying to practice the tenets of Zen Buddhism. Reflecting years later on his spiritual feelings, he said that religion was at its best when it emphasized spiritual experiences rather than received dogma. “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.”
A brilliant partner, meeting Woz
I came to understand the power of having a business partner with complementary skills since starting a company. Suddenly 1+1 seems to be 4. Steve met his perfect complementary partner with whom he’d later create Apple Computer while he was still in high school.
While a student in McCollum’s class, Jobs became friends with a graduate who was the teacher’s all-time favorite and a school legend for his wizardry in the class. Stephen Wozniak, whose younger brother had been on a swim team with Jobs, was almost five years older than Jobs and far more knowledgeable about electronics. But emotionally and socially he was still a high school geek.
Like Jobs, Wozniak learned a lot at his father’s knee. But their lessons were different. Paul Jobs was a high school dropout who, when fixing up cars, knew how to turn a tidy profit by striking the right deal on parts. Francis Wozniak, known as Jerry, was a brilliant engineering graduate from Cal Tech, where he had quarterbacked the football team, who became a rocket scientist at Lockheed. He exalted engineering and looked down on those in business, marketing, and sales. “I remember him telling me that engineering was the highest level of importance you could reach in the world,” Steve Wozniak later recalled. “It takes society to a new level.”
One of Steve Wozniak’s first memories was going to his father’s workplace on a weekend and being shown electronic parts, with his dad “putting them on a table with me so I got to play with them.” He watched with fascination as his father tried to get a waveform line on a video screen to stay flat so he could show that one of his circuit designs was working properly. “I could see that whatever my dad was doing, it was important and good.” Woz, as he was known even then, would ask about the resistors and transistors lying around the house, and his father would pull out a blackboard to illustrate what they did. “He would explain what a resistor was by going all the way back to atoms and electrons. He explained how resistors worked when I was in second grade, not by equations but by having me picture it.”
The Blue Box that paved the way to Apple
The ultimate combination of pranks and electronics—and the escapade that helped to create Apple—was launched one Sunday afternoon when Wozniak read an article in Esquire that his mother had left for him on the kitchen table. It was September 1971, and he was about to drive off the next day to Berkeley, his third college. The story, Ron Rosenbaum’s “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” described how hackers and phone phreakers had found ways to make long-distance calls for free by replicating the tones that routed signals on the AT&T network. “Halfway through the article, I had to call my best friend, Steve Jobs, and read parts of this long article to him,” Wozniak recalled. He knew that Jobs, then beginning his senior year, was one of the few people who would share his excitement.
Woz and Steve went on to build a replica of the blue box which brought out the best of them. The engineering ability of Woz, and the attention to detail, as well as business savy of Jobs.
It was then that they reached an important milestone, one that would establish a pattern in their partnerships: Jobs came up with the idea that the Blue Box could be more than merely a hobby; they could build and sell them. “I got together the rest of the components, like the casing and power supply and keypads, and figured out how we could price it,” Jobs said, foreshadowing roles he would play when they founded Apple. The finished product was about the size of two decks of playing cards. The parts cost about $40, and Jobs decided they should sell it for $150.
The partnership paved the way for what would be a bigger adventure together. “If it hadn’t been for the Blue Boxes, there wouldn’t have been an Apple,” Jobs later reflected. “I’m 100% sure of that. Woz and I learned how to work together, and we gained the confidence that we could solve technical problems and actually put something into production.” They had created a device with a little circuit board that could control billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure. “You cannot believe how much confidence that gave us.” Woz came to the same conclusion: “It was probably a bad idea selling them, but it gave us a taste of what we could do with my engineering skills and his vision.” The Blue Box adventure established a template for a partnership that would soon be born. Wozniak would be the gentle wizard coming up with a neat invention that he would have been happy just to give away, and Jobs would figure out how to make it user-friendly, put it together in a package, market it, and make a few bucks.
Intuition over abstract thinking and logic
Probably one of the most defining characteristics that made Jobs stand out, was his intuition and focus. He could look at something and intuitively know what needed to be done.
Jobs’s engagement with Eastern spirituality, and especially Zen Buddhism, was not just some passing fancy or youthful dabbling. He embraced it with his typical intensity, and it became deeply ingrained in his personality. “Steve is very much Zen,” said Kottke. “It was a deep influence. You see it in his whole approach of stark, minimalist aesthetics, intense focus.” Jobs also became deeply influenced by the emphasis that Buddhism places on intuition. “I began to realize that an intuitive understanding and consciousness was more significant than abstract thinking and intellectual logical analysis,” he later said. His intensity, however, made it difficult for him to achieve inner peace; his Zen awareness was not accompanied by an excess of calm, peace of mind, or interpersonal mellowness.
Steve traveled to India in his search for enlightenment. He had a great interest in Eastern spirituality. Later he reflected on his trip to India.
Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.
Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.
Coming back after seven months in Indian villages, I saw the craziness of the Western world as well as its capacity for rational thought. If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.
Zen has been a deep influence in my life ever since. At one point I was thinking about going to Japan and trying to get into the Eihei-ji monastery, but my spiritual advisor urged me to stay here. He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct. I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.
Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was, indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power. Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead.
I was surprised that Steve actually learned a lot of the traits that later made him famous, from other people. One of those people was Robert Friedland.
Jobs had honed his trick of using stares and silences to master other people. “One of his numbers was to stare at the person he was talking to. He would stare into their fucking eyeballs, ask some question, and would want a response without the other person averting their eyes.”
According to Kottke, some of Jobs’s personality traits—including a few that lasted throughout his career—were borrowed from Friedland. “Friedland taught Steve the reality distortion field,” said Kottke. “He was charismatic and a bit of a con man and could bend situations to his very strong will. He was mercurial, sure of himself, a little dictatorial. Steve admired that, and he became more like that after spending time with Robert.”
Jobs also absorbed how Friedland made himself the center of attention. “Robert was very much an outgoing, charismatic guy, a real salesman,” Kottke recalled. “When I first met Steve he was shy and self-effacing, a very private guy. I think Robert taught him a lot about selling, about coming out of his shell, of opening up and taking charge of a situation.” Friedland projected a high-wattage aura. “He would walk into a room and you would instantly notice him. Steve was the absolute opposite when he came to Reed. After he spent time with Robert, some of it started to rub off.”
Steve Wozniak came up with the first personal computer with a keyboard to insert commands. Woz the kind of guy he was, just gave it away free at the homebrew computer club. That’s’ when Jobs’ instincts kicked in.
So he convinced Wozniak to stop giving away copies of his schematics. Most people didn’t have time to build it themselves anyway, Jobs argued. “Why don’t we build and sell printed circuit boards to them?” It was an example of their symbiosis. “Every time I’d design something great, Steve would find a way to make money for us,” said Wozniak. Wozniak admitted that he would have never thought of doing that on his own. “It never crossed my mind to sell computers. It was Steve who said, ‘Let’s hold them in the air and sell a few.’”
Jobs worked out a plan to pay a guy he knew at Atari to draw the circuit boards and then print up fifty or so. That would cost about $1,000, plus the fee to the designer. They could sell them for $40 apiece and perhaps clear a profit of $700. Wozniak was dubious that they could sell them all. “I didn’t see how we would make our money back,” he recalled. He was already in trouble with his landlord for bouncing checks and now had to pay each month in cash.
Jobs knew how to appeal to Wozniak. He didn’t argue that they were sure to make money, but instead that they would have a fun adventure. “Even if we lose our money, we’ll have a company,” said Jobs as they were driving in his Volkswagen bus. “For once in our lives, we’ll have a company.” This was enticing to Wozniak, even more than any prospect of getting rich. He recalled, “I was excited to think about us like that. To be two best friends starting a company. Wow. I knew right then that I’d do it. How could I not?”
Learning Marketing from Mike Markkula
Another key person Steve learned his genius from was Mike Markkula. Specifically, Mike though Steve how to package and market products. Jobs met Mike after an investor recommended he should hire a person who understands marketing, distribution and how to write a business plan. Jobs met with 3 people, one of them was Mike.
Jobs immediately liked Markkula. “He was short and he had been passed over for the top marketing job at Intel, which I suspect made him want to prove himself.” He also struck Jobs as decent and fair. “You could tell that if he could screw you, he wouldn’t. He had a real moral sense to him.” Wozniak was equally impressed. “I thought he was the nicest person ever,” he recalled. “Better still, he actually liked what we had!”
Markkula proposed to Jobs that they write a business plan together. “If it comes out well, I’ll invest,” Markkula said, “and if not, you’ve got a few weeks of my time for free.” Jobs began going to Markkula’s house in the evenings, kicking around projections and talking through the night. “We made a lot of assumptions, such as about how many houses would have a personal computer, and there were nights we were up until 4 a.m.,” Jobs recalled. Markkula ended up writing most of the plan. “Steve would say, ‘I will bring you this section next time,’ but he usually didn’t deliver on time, so I ended up doing it.”
Markkula’s plan envisioned ways of getting beyond the hobbyist market. “He talked about introducing the computer to regular people in regular homes, doing things like keeping track of your favorite recipes or balancing your checkbook,” Wozniak recalled. Markkula made a wild prediction: “We’re going to be a Fortune 500 company in two years,” he said. “This is the start of an industry. It happens once in a decade.” It would take Apple seven years to break into the Fortune 500, but the spirit of Markkula’s prediction turned out to be true.
Markkula would become a father figure to Jobs. Like Jobs’s adoptive father, he would indulge Jobs’s strong will, and like his biological father, he would end up abandoning him. “Markkula was as much a father-son relationship as Steve ever had,” said the venture capitalist Arthur Rock. He began to teach Jobs about marketing and sales. “Mike really took me under his wing,” Jobs recalled. “His values were much aligned with mine. He emphasized that you should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.”
Markkula wrote his principles in a one-page paper titled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” that stressed three points. The first was empathy, an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer: “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.” The second was focus: “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” The third and equally important principle, awkwardly named, was impute. It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. “People DO judge a book by its cover,” he wrote. “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”
For the rest of his career, Jobs would understand the needs and desires of customers better than any other business leader, he would focus on a handful of core products, and he would care, sometimes obsessively, about marketing and image and even the details of packaging. “When you open the box of an iPhone or iPad, we want that tactile experience to set the tone for how you perceive the product,” he said. “Mike taught me that.”
Woz and Steve had very different thoughts about selling the apple 1. Woz wanted to sell it for about what it cost to make it. It was in his hacker nature to share things. Not so Steve, he wanted to make a huge profit.
He picked a retail price that was about three times what it cost to build the boards and a 33% markup over the $500 wholesale price that Terrell and other stores paid. The result was $666.66.
Philosophy Jobs embraced
Jobs learned a lot of things from other brilliant people.
From Regis McKenna he learned the maxim “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Alan Kay, a visionary from Xerox had two great maxims that Jobs embraced: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” and “People who are serious about software should make their own hardware.”
Great Artists Steal
When Jobs went to the Palo Alto Research Center known as Xerox PARC, he discovered the graphical user interface. Something he would take and implement into the Apple Lisa and Macintosh.
The Apple raid on Xerox PARC is sometimes described as one of the biggest heists in the chronicles of industry. Jobs occasionally endorsed this view, with pride. As he once said, “Picasso had a saying—‘good artists copy, great artists steal’—and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
Another assessment, also sometimes endorsed by Jobs, is that what transpired was less a heist by Apple than a fumble by Xerox. “They were copier-heads who had no clue about what a computer could do,” he said of Xerox’s management. “They just grabbed defeat from the greatest victory in the computer industry. Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry.”
Both assessments contain a lot of truth, but there is more to it than that. There falls a shadow, as T. S. Eliot noted, between the conception and the creation. In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important.
Jobs’ hiring strategy
Jobs’s primary test for recruiting people in the spring of 1981 to be part of his merry band of pirates was making sure they had a passion for the product. He would sometimes bring candidates into a room where a prototype of the Mac was covered by a cloth, dramatically unveil it, and watch. “If their eyes lit up, if they went right for the mouse and started pointing and clicking, Steve would smile and hire them,” recalled Andrea Cunningham. “He wanted them to say ‘Wow!’”
Jobs kept a tight rein on the hiring process. The goal was to get people who were creative, wickedly smart, and slightly rebellious. The software team would make applicants play Defender, Smith’s favorite video game. Jobs would ask his usual offbeat questions to see how well the applicant could think in unexpected situations.
The reality distortion field
One of Steve’s most remarkable skills was to convince other people of something. Through his laser focus and willpower, he converted other people’s disbelief into belief or their lack of confidence in confidence.
When Andy Hertzfeld joined the Macintosh team, he got a briefing from Bud Tribble, the other software designer, about the huge amount of work that still needed to be done. Jobs wanted it finished by January 1982, less than a year away. “That’s crazy,” Hertzfeld said. “There’s no way.” Tribble said that Jobs would not accept any contrary facts. “The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek,” Tribble explained. “Steve has a reality distortion field.” When Hertzfeld looked puzzled, Tribble elaborated. “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules.”
Tribble recalled that he adopted the phrase from the “Menagerie” episodes of Star Trek, “in which the aliens create their own new world through sheer mental force.” He meant the phrase to be a compliment as well as a caution: “It was dangerous to get caught in Steve’s distortion field, but it was what led him to actually be able to change reality.”
At first Hertzfeld thought that Tribble was exaggerating, but after two weeks of working with Jobs, he became a keen observer of the phenomenon. “The reality distortion field was a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand,” he said.
There was little that could shield you from the force, Hertzfeld discovered. “Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective even if you were acutely aware of it. We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it, but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature.” After Jobs decreed that the sodas in the office refrigerator be replaced by Odwalla organic orange and carrot juices, someone on the team had T-shirts made. “Reality Distortion Field,” they said on the front, and on the back, “It’s in the juice!”
A lot of people distort reality, of course. When Jobs did so, it was often a tactic for accomplishing something. Wozniak, who was as congenitally honest as Jobs was tactical, marveled at how effective it could be. “His reality distortion is when he has an illogical vision of the future, such as telling me that I could design the Breakout game in just a few days. You realize that it can’t be true, but he somehow makes it true.”
When members of the Mac team got ensnared in his reality distortion field, they were almost hypnotized. “He reminded me of Rasputin,” said Debi Coleman. “He laser-beamed in on you and didn’t blink. It didn’t matter if he was serving purple Kool-Aid. You drank it.” But like Wozniak, she believed that the reality distortion field was empowering: It enabled Jobs to inspire his team to change the course of computer history with a fraction of the resources of Xerox or IBM. “It was a self-fulfilling distortion,” she claimed. “You did the impossible, because you didn’t realize it was impossible.”
Job’s persuasion power was crucial when he had to convince the CEO of Corning Glass to produce gorilla glass for the iPhone on a massive scale when the company had never produced its invention on an industrial scale.
This turned Jobs around, and he said he wanted as much gorilla glass as Corning could make within six months. “We don’t have the capacity,” Weeks replied. “None of our plants make the glass now.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was good-humored and confident but not used to Jobs’s reality distortion field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but that was a premise that Jobs had repeatedly shown he didn’t accept. He stared at Weeks unblinking. “Yes, you can do it,” he said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.”
As Weeks retold this story, he shook his head in astonishment. “We did it in under six months,” he said. “We produced a glass that had never been made.” Corning’s facility in Harrisburg, Kentucky, which had been making LCD displays, was converted almost overnight to make gorilla glass full-time. “We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.” In his airy office, Weeks has just one framed memento on display. It’s a message Jobs sent the day the iPhone came out: “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
“It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.” was one of Jobs maxims. He instilled a rebel spirit in his team. He could destroy with his words but he respected people who had the courage to stand up to him and criticize his ideas in turn.
As Susan Kare put it, “He meant, ‘Let’s have a renegade feeling to our group. We can move fast. We can get things done.’”
A company is supposed to spark innovation
One thing Jobs learned is that a good company is far more than the sum of its parts.
One of his motivating passions was to build a lasting company. At age twelve, when he got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, he learned that a properly run company could spawn innovation far more than any single creative individual. “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company,” he recalled. “The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating. When I got the chance to come back to Apple, I realized that I would be useless without the company, and that’s why I decided to stay and rebuild it.”
Jobs fixed Apple when he came back to the company by eliminating useless products. That was the only way Apple could focus on the relevant stuff.
The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.” Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh, each with a different confusing number, ranging from 1400 to 9600. “I had people explaining this to me for three weeks,” Jobs said. “I couldn’t figure it out.” He finally began asking simple questions, like, “Which ones do I tell my friends to buy?” When he couldn’t get simple answers, he began slashing away at models and products. Soon he had cut 70% of them. “You are bright people,” he told one group. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time on such crappy products.” Many of the engineers were infuriated at his slash-and-burn tactics, which resulted in massive layoffs. But Jobs later claimed that the good engineers, including some whose projects were killed, were appreciative. He told one staff meeting in September 1997, “I came out of the meeting with people who had just gotten their products canceled and they were three feet off the ground with excitement because they finally understood where in the heck we were going.”
Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time. “There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” Cook said. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things. Few people are really good at that.”
Make decisions fast
Steve was able to look at something and immediately know what to do, or at least to make a decision fast. Moving fast is very important.
The iMac went on sale in August 1998 for $1,299. It sold 278,000 units in its first six weeks, and would sell 800,000 by the end of the year, making it the fastest-selling computer in Apple history. Most notably, 32% of the sales went to people who were buying a computer for the first time, and another 12% to people who had been using Windows machines.
Ive soon came up with four new juicy-looking colors, in addition to bondi blue, for the iMacs. Offering the same computer in five colors would of course create huge challenges for manufacturing, inventory, and distribution. At most companies, including even the old Apple, there would have been studies and meetings to look at the costs and benefits. But when Jobs looked at the new colors, he got totally psyched and summoned other executives over to the design studio. “We’re going to do all sorts of colors!” he told them excitedly. When they left, Ive looked at his team in amazement. “In most places that decision would have taken months,” Ive recalled. “Steve did it in a half hour.”
The book Creativity Inc. describes how Steve designed Pixar’s building to instigate random encounters of people which leads to more innovation. Steve made Apple good at integrating the entire product development, design and engineering.
Despite his autocratic nature—he never worshipped at the altar of consensus—Jobs worked hard to foster a culture of collaboration at Apple. Many companies pride themselves on having few meetings. Jobs had many: an executive staff session every Monday, a marketing strategy session all Wednesday afternoon, and endless product review sessions. Still allergic to PowerPoints and formal presentations, he insisted that the people around the table hash out issues from various vantages and the perspectives of different departments.
Because he believed that Apple’s great advantage was its integration of the whole widget—from design to hardware to software to content—he wanted all departments at the company to work together in parallel. The phrases he used were “deep collaboration” and “concurrent engineering.” Instead of a development process in which a product would be passed sequentially from engineering to design to manufacturing to marketing and distribution, these various departments collaborated simultaneously. “Our method was to develop integrated products, and that meant our process had to be integrated and collaborative,” Jobs said.
Apple’s devices are famous for their intuitive user interfaces, that’s no coincidence.
Once the project was launched, Jobs immersed himself in it daily. His main demand was “Simplify!” He would go over each screen of the user interface and apply a rigid test: If he wanted a song or a function, he should be able to get there in three clicks. And the click should be intuitive. If he couldn’t figure out how to navigate to something, or if it took more than three clicks, he would be brutal. “There would be times when we’d rack our brains on a user interface problem, and think we’d considered every option, and he would go, ‘Did you think of this?’” said Fadell. “And then we’d all go, ‘Holy shit.’ He’d redefine the problem or approach, and our little problem would go away.”
Michael Noer wrote a story on Forbes that highlighted the iPads ease of use.
Noer was reading a science fiction novel on his iPad while staying at a dairy farm in a rural area north of Bogotá, Colombia, when a poor six-year-old boy who cleaned the stables came up to him. Curious, Noer handed him the device. With no instruction, and never having seen a computer before, the boy started using it intuitively. He began swiping the screen, launching apps, playing a pinball game. “Steve Jobs has designed a powerful computer that an illiterate six-year-old can use without instruction,” Noer wrote. “If that isn’t magical, I don’t know what is.”