The lost interview
Some quotes from Steve Jobs in The Lost Interview.
Background: this interview happened in 1995, 10 years ago, Steve Jobs was fired by Apple, he was in charge of NeXT at that time, which is a company he founded after leaving Apple. Fun fact, in the next year of this interview (1996), Apple bought NeXT, and Steve Jobs went back to Apple.
When the host is asking how Steve Jobs learns to run a company:
You know, throughout my years in business I discovered something. I would always ask why you do things. The answers that I would invariably get are: “Oh, that’s just the way things are done around here.” Nobody knows why they do what they do. Nobody thinks very deeply about things in business. That’s what I found.
I’ll give you an example. When we were building our Apple computers in a garage, we knew exactly what they cost. When we got into a factory in the Apple II days, the accountants had this notion of a standard cost, where you kind of set a standard cost and at the end of the quarter, you would adjust it with a variance. I kept asking: why do we do this? The answer was, “That’s just the way it’s done.”
After about six months of digging into this, I realized that the reason they did this is that they didn’t have good enough controls to know how much it’s going to cost. So you guess. And then you fix your guess at the end of the quarter. And the reason you don’t know how much it costs is because your information systems aren’t good enough. But nobody said it that way.
So later on, when we designed this automated factory for the Macintosh, we were able to get rid of a lot of these antiquated concepts and know exactly what something cost.
So in business a lot of things are folklore. They are done because they were done yesterday. And the day before. What it means is, if you are willing to ask a lot of questions and think about things and work really hard, you can learn business pretty fast. It’s not the hardest thing in the world. It’s not rocket science.
When the host is asking about programming:
It had nothing to do with using programs for practical things, it had more to do with using them as a mirror of your thought process. To actually learn how to think. I think everyone in this country should learn to program a computer. Everyone should learn a computer language because it teaches you how to think. I think of computer science as a liberal art.
When the host is asking why Steve Jobs said “The technology crashed and burned in Xeror”:
What happens is, John came from Pepsico. And they at most would change their product once every 10 years. To them, a new product was a new sized bottle. So if you were a ‘product person’, you couldn’t change the course of that company very much. So, who influences the success at Pepsico? The sales and marketing people. Therefore they were the ones that got promoted, and they were the ones that ran the company.
Well, for Pepsico that might have been okay, but it turns out the same thing can happen at technology companies that get monopolies. Like IBM and Xerox. If you were a ‘product person’ at IBM or Xerox: so you make a better copier or better computer. So what? When you have a monopoly market-share, the company’s not any more successful. So the people who make the company more successful are the sales and marketing people, and they end up running the companies. And the ‘product people’ get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product. They have no conception of the craftsmanship that’s required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. And they really have no feeling in their hearts about wanting to help the costumers.
When Steve Jobs wanted to focus on the development of GUI, a lot of people said no:
People get confused; companies get confused. When they start getting bigger, they want to replicate their initial success. And a lot of them think, ‘Well, somehow, there’s some magic in the process of how that success was created.’ So they start to institutionalize process across the company. And before very long, people start to get confused that the process is the content. And that’s ultimately the downfall of IBM. IBM has the best process people in the world. They just forgot about the content. And that happened a little bit at Apple, too. We had a lot of people who were great at management process. They just didn’t have a clue about the content. In my career, I found that the best people are the ones that really understand the content. And they’re a pain in the butt to manage! But you put up with it because they’re so great at the content. And that’s what makes great products. It’s not process, it’s content.
When the host is asking what the most important thing is in developing a product:
You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.
And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.
Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.
And it’s that process that is the magic.
Steve Jobs talks about the importance of hiring talented people:
I’ve built a lot of my success off finding these truly gifted people and not settling for B and C players, but really going for the A players… I found that when you get enough A players together, when you go through the incredible work to find five of these A players, they really like working with each other. Because they’ve never had a chance to do that before. And they don’t want to work with B and C players and so it becomes self-policing and they only want to hire more A players. And so you build up these pockets of A players, and it propagates.
When the host is asking how Steve Jobs knows which is the right direction:
Ultimately it comes down to taste. It’s a matter of trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done. And then try to bring those things into what you are doing. Picasso had a saying: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.
Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians. They also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world. But if it hadn’t been computer science, these people would have been doing amazing things in other fields. We all brought to this a sort of “liberal arts” air, an attitude that we wanted to pull the best that we saw into this field. You don’t get that if you are very narrow.