Steve Jobs | Walter Isaacson
Fifty years later the fence still surrounds the back and side yards of the house in Mountain View. As Jobs showed it off to me, he caressed the stockade panels and recalled a lesson that his father implanted deeply in him. It was important, his father said, to craft the backs of cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden. “He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.”
He needed some parts that HP made, so he picked up the phone and called the CEO. “Back then, people didn’t have unlisted numbers. So I looked up Bill Hewlett in Palo Alto and called him at home. And he answered and chatted with me for twenty minutes. He got me the parts, but he also got me a job in the plant where they made frequency counters.” Jobs worked there the summer after his freshman year at Homestead High. “My dad would drive me in the morning and pick me up in the evening.”
His work mainly consisted of “just putting nuts and bolts on things” on an assembly line. There was some resentment among his fellow line workers toward the pushy kid who had talked his way in by calling the CEO. “I remember telling one of the supervisors, ‘I love this stuff, I love this stuff,’ and then I asked him what he liked to do best. And he said, ‘To fuck, to fuck.’”
That summer of 1972, after his graduation, he and Brennan moved to a cabin in the hills above Los Altos. “I’m going to go live in a cabin with Chrisann,” he announced to his parents one day. His father was furious. “No you’re not,” he said. “Over my dead body.” They had recently fought about marijuana, and once again the younger Jobs was willful. He just said good-bye and walked out.
Jobs found himself deeply influenced by a variety of books on spirituality and enlightenment, most notably Be Here Now, a guide to meditation and the wonders of psychedelic drugs by Baba Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert. “It was profound,” Jobs said. “It transformed me and many of my friends.”
Jobs quickly became bored with college. He liked being at Reed, just not taking the required classes. In fact he was surprised when he found out that, for all of its hippie aura, there were strict course requirements. When Wozniak came to visit, Jobs waved his schedule at him and complained, “They are making me take all these courses.” Woz replied, “Yes, that’s what they do in college.”
Jobs became a Whole Earth fan. He was particularly taken by the final issue, which came out in 1971, when he was still in high school, and he brought it with him to college and then to the All One Farm. “On the back cover of their final issue” Jobs recalled, “was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’”
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 propsect 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?”
An early showdown came over employee badge numbers. Scott assigned #1 to Wozniak and #2 to Jobs. Not surprisingly, Jobs demanded to be #1. “I wouldn’t let him have it, becaues that would stoke his ego even more,” said Scott. Jobs threw a tantrum, even cried. Finally, he proposed a solution. He would have badge #0. Scott relented, at least for the purpose of the badge, but the Bank of America required a positive integer for its payroll system and Job’s remained #2.
He bought a proper house in the Los Gatos hills, which he adorned with a Maxfield Parrish painting, a Braun coffeemaker, and Henckels knives. But because he was so obsessive when it came to selecting furnishings, it remained mostly barren, lacking beds or chairs or couches. Instead his bedroom had a mattress in the center, framed pictures of Einstein and Maharaj-ji on the walls, and an Apple II on the floor.
Among its visionaries was the scientist Alan Kay, who 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.”
Jobs and his team went to a Xerox dealer to look at the Star as soon as it was released. But he deemed it so worthless that he told his colleagues they couldn’t spend the money to buy one. “We were very relieved,” he recalled. “We knew they hadn’t done it right, and that we could—at a fraction of the price.” A few weeks later he called Bob Belleville, one of the hardware designers on the Xerox Star team. “Everything you’ve ever done in your life is shit,” Jobs said, “so why don’t you come work for me?” Belleville did, and so did Larry Tesler.
One day Jobs came into the cubicle of Larry Kenyon, an engineer who was working on the Macintosh operating system, and complained that it was taking too long to boot up. Kenyon started to explain, but Jobs cut him off. “If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?” he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if there were five million people using the Mac, and it took ten seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to three hundred million or so hours per year that people would save, which was the equivalent of at least one hundred lifetimes saved per year. “Larry was suitably impressed, and a few weeks later he came back and it booted up twenty-eight seconds faster,” Atkinson recalled. “Steve had a way of motivating by looking at the bigger picture.”
In Aspen he was exposed to the spare and functional design philosophy of the Bauhaus movement, which was enshrined by Herbert Bayer in the buildings, living suites, sans serif font typography, and furniture on the Aspen Institute campus. Like his mentors Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bayer believed that there should be no distinction between fine art and applied industrial design. The modernist International Style championed by the Bauhaus taught that design should be simple, yet have an expressive spirit. It emphasized rationality and functionality by employing clean lines and forms. Among the maxims preached by Mies and Gropius were “God is in the details” and “Less is more.”
He repeatedly emphasized that Apple’s products would be clean and simple. “We will make them bright and pure and honest about being high-tech, rather than a heavy industrial look of black, black, black, black, like Sony,” he preached. “So that’s our approach. Very simple, and we’re really shooting for Museum of Modern Art quality. The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”
One of the most extreme—and telling—implementations of that philosophy came when he scrutinized the printed circuit board that would hold the chips and other components deep inside the Macintosh. No consumer would ever see it, but Jobs began critiquing it on aesthetic grounds. “That part’s really pretty,” he said. “But look at the memory chips. That’s ugly. The lines are too close together.”
One of the new engineers interrupted and asked why it mattered. “The only thing that’s important is how well it works. Nobody is going to see the PC board.”
Jobs reacted typically. “I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”
Jobs confided in Sculley that he believed he would die young, and therefore he needed to accomplish things quickly so that he would make his mark on Silicon Valley history. “We all have a short period of time on this earth,” he told the Sculleys as they sat around the table that morning. “We probably only have the opportunity to do a few things really great and do them well. None of us has any idea how long we’re going to be here, nor do I, but my feeling is I’ve got to accomplish a lot of these things while I’m young.”
I’d go out to the factory, and I’d put on a white glove to check for dust. I’d find it everywhere—on machines, on the tops of the racks, on the floor. And I’d ask Debi to get it cleaned. I told her I thought we should be able to eat off the floor of the factory. Well, this drove Debi up the wall. She didn’t understand why. And I couldn’t articulate it back then. See, I’d been very influenced by what I’d seen in Japan. Part of what I greatly admired there—and part of what we were lacking in our factory—was a sense of teamwork and discipline. If we didn’t have the discipline to keep that place spotless, then we weren’t going to have the discipline to keep all these machines running.
When Jobs asked for a number of options to consider, Rand declared that he did not create different options for clients. “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs. “You can use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.”
Her father, whose dietary fixations came in fanatic waves, was more fastidious about what he ate. She watched him spit out a mouthful of soup one day after learning that it contained butter. After loosening up a bit while at Apple, he was back to being a strict vegan. Even at a young age Lisa began to realize his diet obsessions reflected a life philosophy, one in which asceticism and minimalism could heighten subsequent sensations. “He believed that great harvests came from arid sources, pleasure from restraint,” she noted. “He knew the equations that most people didn’t know: Things led to their opposites.”
A few years later, Jobs described to Wired the process that went into getting a new washing machine:
It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better—but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer. We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table.
They ended up getting a Miele washer and dryer, made in Germany. “I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years,” Jobs said.
In 1995 Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison threw a fortieth-birthday party for Jobs filled with tech stars and moguls. Ellison had become a close friend, and he would often take the Jobs family out on one of his many luxurious yachts. Reed started referring to him as “our rich friend,” which was amusing evidence of how his father refrained from ostentatious displays of wealth. The lesson Jobs learned from his Buddhist days was that material possessions often cluttered life rather than enriched it. “Every other CEO I know has a security detail,” he said. “They’ve even got them at their homes. It’s a nutso way to live. We just decided that’s not how we wanted to raise our kids.”
“You know, Larry, I think I’ve found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it,” Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, “He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO.” Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. “But Steve, there’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said. “If we don’t buy the company, how can we make any money?” It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison’s left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, “Larry, this is why it’s really important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money.”
Ellison recalled that his own answer was almost a whine: “Well, I may not need the money, but why should some fund manager at Fidelity get the money? Why should someone else get it? Why shouldn’t it be us?”
“I think if I went back to Apple, and I didn’t own any of Apple, and you didn’t own any of Apple, I’d have the moral high ground,” Jobs replied.
“Steve, that’s really expensive real estate, this moral high ground,” said Ellison. “Look, Steve, you’re my best friend, and Apple is your company. I’ll do whatever you want.”
Ive was a fan of the German industrial designer Dieter Rams, who worked for the electronics firm Braun. Rams preached the gospel of “Less but better,” Weniger aber besser, and likewise Jobs and Ive wrestled with each new design to see how much they could simplify it.
Sitting in his design studio, Ive described his philosophy:
Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to coplexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.
At most other companies, engineering tends to drive design. The engineers set forth their specifications and requirements, and the designers then come up with cases and shells that will accomodate them. For Jobs, the process tended to work the other way. In the early days of Apple, Jobs had approved the design of the case of the original Macintosh, and the engineers had to make their boards and components fit.
For most things in life, the range between best and average is 30% or so. The best airplane flight, the best meal, they may be 30% better than your average one. What I saw with Woz was somebody who was fifty times better than the average engineer. He could have meetings in his head. The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like that, A players. Popele said they wouldn’t get along, they’d hate working with each other. But I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do. You need to have a collaborative hiring process. When we hire someone, even if they’re gonig to be in marketing, I will have them talk to the design folks and the engineers. My role model was J. Robert Oppenheimer. I read about the type of people he sought for the atom bomb project. I wasn’t nearly as good as he was, but that’s what I aspired to do.
But Sony couldn’t. It had pioneered portable music with the Walkman, it had a great record company, and it had a long history of making beautiful consumer devices. It had all of the assets to compete with Job’s strategy of integration of hardware, software, devices, and content sales. Why did it fail? Partly because it was a company, like AOL Time Warner, that was organized into divisions (that word itself was ominous) with their own bottom lines; the goal of achieving synergy in such companies by prodding the divisions to work together was usually elusive.
Jobs did not organize Apple into semiautonomous divisions; he closely controlled all of his teams and pushed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom line.
In return for speaking at the retreat, Jobs got Murdoch to hear him out on Fox News, which he believed was destructive, harmful to the nation, and a blot on Murdoch’s reputation. “You’re blowing it with Fox News,” Jobs told him over dinner. “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive, and you’ve cast your lot with the destrctive people. Fox has become an incredibly destructive force in our society. You can be better, and this is going to be your legacy if you’re not careful.” Jobs said he thought Murdoch did not really like how far Fox had gone. “Rupert’s a builder, not a tearer-downer,” he said.”
I recounted what Gates had said after he described his last visit with Jobs, which was that Aple had shown that the integrated approach could work, but only “when Steve is at the helm.” Jobs thought that was silly. “Anyone could make better products that way, not just me,” he said. So I asked him to name another company that made great products by insisting on end-to-end integration. He thought for a while, trying to come up with an example. “The car companies,” he finally said, but then he added, “Or at least they used to.”
My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.
Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.
I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That’s what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money.
I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how—because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.