November 25, 2004

Steve Jobs: Excelling in the Art

Steven Paul Jobs, inventor, founder and now the saviour of Apple Inc. once said he never made a distinction between an artist and a scientist or an engineer of the highest calibre. Artistry not just in the elegance of a solution but in having an insight into what one sees around them. Both kinds of people are headed towards the same goal he said, "which is to express something of what they perceive to be the truth around them so that others can benefit by it."

If there's someone in the business world who has earned the right to be called an artist more than anyone else, it is Steve Jobs. Jobs has demonstrated exceptional creative ability in every facet of running a business - in his vision and understanding of markets and customer needs. In identifying untapped opportunities and tapping them with elaborate success. In turning around a beleaguered loss making enterprise into a highly successful and admired business. In invention as well as innovation. In excellence in technology and ease of use. In creating aesthetic marvels of products. And in storytelling and showmanship.

There's no comparison to Steve Jobs. Reading his interviews that give an insight into the mind of this man is always intellectually stimulating and inspiring. Imagine my delight when I recently came across this twenty-paged tome of an interview from 1995 with over 11,600 words. It's from when Steve was awarded the Computerworld Smithsonian Leadership Award that recognizes outstanding leaders of the information technology revolution. In the past the award has been conferred on the likes of Marc Andreessen, Craig Barrett, John Chambers and Tim Berners-Lee.

The extensive interview touches upon a variety of areas related to Jobs' life. Interspersed in it are anecdotes like - how, if it weren't for his fourth grade teacher he would have certainly grown up to be a criminal; the time when Apple decided to give away 100,000 computers- one to each school -because "the kids can't wait"; and the "apocalyptic moment" of discovering the first crude Graphical User Interface at PARC in 1979 and knowing within minutes "that every computer would work this way some day."

The long interview is divided into 14 sections. I'm providing here excerpts from each of those sections. You can use the link at the end of each excerpt to jump to that section of the interview.

(UPDATE 26 Apr, 2006: Fixed broken links caused by re-structuring of the original site: where the interview is now available as a PDF.

UPDATE 26 Jan, 2012: Three weeks after his demise ComputerWorld released the video of this interview. It's available here.)

Excerpts from The Computerworld Smithsonian Award interview with Steve Jobs, April 1995.

Learning to Use Tools (and Build Things)
I got to know this man, whose name was Larry Lang, and he taught me a lot of electronics. He was great. He used to build Heathkits. Heathkits were really great. Heathkits were these products that you would buy in kit form. You actually paid more money for them than if you just went and bought the finished product if it was available. These Heathkits would come with these detailed manuals about how to put this thing together and all the parts would be laid out in a certain way and color coded. You'd actually build this thing yourself. I would say that this gave one several things. It gave one a understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked because it would include a theory of operation but maybe even more importantly it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe. read on These things were not mysteries anymore. I mean you looked at a television set you would think that "I haven't built one of those but I could. There's one of those in the Heathkit catalog and I've built two other Heathkits so I could build that." Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one's environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment. My childhood was very fortunate in that way.

In this section Steve also talks about growing up in the late 50's and early 60's, where he was when he first heard about Keneddy's assassination, about his father and the non conformance streaks in him at school including the anecdote about his fourth grade teacher. Learning to use tools

The Importance of Education
I'm a very big believer in equal opportunity as opposed to equal outcome. I don't believe in equal outcome because unfortunately life's not like that. It would be a pretty boring place if it was. But I really believe in equal opportunity. Equal opportunity to me more than anything means a great education. read on Maybe even more important than a great family life, but I don't know how to do that. Nobody knows how to do that. But it pains me because we do know how to provide a great education. We really do. We could make sure that every young child in this country got a great education. We fall far short of that. I know from my own education that if I hadn't encountered two or three individuals that spent extra time with me, I'm sure I would have been in jail. I'm 100% sure that if it hadn't been for Mrs. Hill in fourth grade and a few others, I would have absolutely have ended up in jail.

In this section Steve also talks about why it's important that talented teachers get attracted to education and what he thinks of unions in educational institutions. The Importance of Education

Role of Computers in Education
DM: Some people say that this new technology maybe a way to bypass that. Are you optimistic about that?

SJ: I absolutely don't believe that. As you've pointed out I've helped with more computers in more schools than anybody else in the world and I absolutely convinced that is by no means the most important thing. The most important thing is a person. read on A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can. The elements of discovery are all around you. You don't need a computer. Here - why does that fall? You know why? Nobody in the entire world knows why that falls. We can describe it pretty accurately but no one knows why. I don't need a computer to get a kid interested in that, to spend a week playing with gravity and trying to understand that and come up with reasons why.

In this section Steve also talks about why children need a guide not an assistant, about who are the customers of education, why the education system has become a monopoly and how little we spend on education. The Role of Computers in Education

The Costs of Education - Alternatives
I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you'd see a lot of new schools starting. read on I've suggested as an example, if you go to Stanford Business School, they have a public policy track; they could start a school administrator track. You could get a bunch of people coming out of college tying up with someone out of the business school, they could be starting their own school. You could have twenty-five year old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they'd start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you'd see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There's no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years.

But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now.

In this section Steve also talks about why competition introduced by the voucher system would raise the bar for schools, why technology isn't the solution to most of the world's problems, why he doesn't read his biographies and how the difference between a good software person and a great software person is of the order of fifty to one. The Costs of Education - Alternatives

The Apple Computer Company
Apple was this incredible journey. I mean we did some amazing things there. The thing that bound us together at Apple was the ability to make things that were going to change the world. That was very important. We were all pretty young. The average age in the company was mid-to-late twenties. Hardly anybody had families at the beginning and we all worked like maniacs and the greatest joy was that we felt we were fashioning collective works of art much like twentieth century physics. Something important that would last, that people contributed to and then could give to more people; the amplification factor was very large. read on

In doing the Macintosh, for example, there was a core group of less than a hundred people, and yet Apple shipped over ten million of them. Of course everybody's copied it and it's hundreds of millions now. That's pretty large amplification, a million to one. It's not often in your life that you get that opportunity to amplify your values a hundred to one, let alone a million to one.

In this section Steve also talks about how changing the course of a vector near its origin amplifies the correction in the long run, that the things he is most proud about at Apple was "where the technical and the humanistic came together," how when it comes to the most brilliant people there remains little difference between art and science. The Apple Computer Company

The Growth of Apple Computer
When I left Apple it was a two billion dollar company. We were Fortune 300 and something. We were 350. When the Mac was introduced we were a billion dollar corporation; so Apple grew from nothing to two billion dollars while I was there. That's a pretty high growth rate. It grew five times since I left basically on the back of the Macintosh. read on I think what's happened since I left in terms of growth rate has been trivial compared with what it was like when I was there. What ruined Apple wasn't growth. What ruined Apple was values. John Sculley ruined Apple and he ruined it by bringing a set of values to the top of Apple which were corrupt and corrupted some of the top people who were there, drove out some of the ones who were not corruptible, and brought in more corrupt ones and paid themselves collectively tens of millions of dollars and cared more about their own glory and wealth than they did about what built Apple in the first place--which was making great computers for people to use.

In this section Steve also talks about how Sculley followed the wrong strategy by ignoring product design and going after profits instead of market share. He also says that why Apple will die in another few years "unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat." The Growth of Apple Computer

The Kids Can't Wait
When I was ten or eleven I saw my first computer. It was down at NASA Ames (Research Center). I didn't see the computer, I saw a terminal and it was theoretically a computer on the other end of the wire. I fell in love with it. I saw my first desktop computer at Hewlett-Packard which was called the 9100A. It was the first desktop in the world. It ran BASIC and APL I think. I fell in love with it. And I thought, looking at these statistics in 1979, I thought if there was just one computer in every school, some of the kids would find it. It will change their life.

We saw the rate at which this was happening and the rate at which the school bureaucracies were deciding to buy a computer for the school and it was real slow. We realized that a whole generation of kids was going to go through the school before they even got their first computer so we thought the kids can't wait. We wanted to donate a computer to every school in America. It turns out that there are about a hundred thousand schools in America, read on about ten thousand high schools, about ninety thousand K through 8. We couldn't afford that as a company. But we studied the law and it turned out that there was a law already on the books, a national law that said that if you donated a piece of scientific instrumentation or computer to a university for educational and research purposes you can take an extra tax deduction. That basically means you don't make any money, you loose some but you don't loose too much. You loose about ten percent. We thought that if we could apply that law, enhance it a little bit to extend it down to K through 8 and remove the research requirements so it was just educational, then we could give a hundred thousand computers away, one to each school in America and it would cost our company ten million dollars which was a lot of money to us at that time but it was less than a hundred million dollars if we didn't have that. We decided that we were willing to do that.

It was one of the most incredible things I've ever done.

In this section Steve also recounts how and why, when he walked the halls of the Congress he found the House Members to be routinely less intelligent than the Senate. About what eventually happened to "the kids can't wait bill" and why Apple was absolutely clueless about how to sell Mac to corporate America where IBM ruled. The Kids Can't Wait

The NeXT Computer Company
DM: Tell me about what motivated you to establish NeXT and what were the goals you set out to accomplish when you set-up this new company?

SJ: That's complicated. We basically wanted to keep doing what we were doing at Apple, to keep innovating. But we made a mistake which was to try to follow the same formula we did at Apple, to make the whole widget. But the market was changing. The industry was changing. The scale was changing. read on And in the end we knew we would be either the last company to make it or the first to not make it. We were right on the edge. We thought we would be the last one that made it, but we were wrong. We were the first one that didn't. We put an end to the companies that tried to do that. We certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but in the end I think we should have taken a bit longer to realize the world was changing and just gone on to be a software company right off the bat.

In this section Steve also talks about why the machine was the best machine in the world. The NeXT Computer Company

NeXT Computer Software
I'll tell you an interesting story. When I was at Apple, a few of my acquaintances said "You really need to go over to Xerox PARC (which was Palo Alto Research Center) and see what they've got going over there." They didn't usually let too many people in but I was able to get in there and see what they were doing. read on I saw their early computer called the Alto which was a phenomenal computer and they actually showed me three things there that they had working in 1976. I saw them in 1979. Things that took really until a few years ago for us to fully recreate, for the industry to fully recreate in this case with NeXTStep. However, I didn't see all three of those things. I only saw the first one which was so incredible to me that it saturated me. It blinded me to see the other two. It took me years to recreate them and rediscover them and incorporate them back into the model but they were very far ahead in their thinking. They didn't have it totally right, but they had the germ of the idea of all three things. And the three things were graphical user interfaces, object oriented computing and networking.

In this section Steve also talks about each of the three things and how NeXT converted some of that vision into reality. NeXT Computer Software

The Internet
The Internet and the World Wide Web are clearly the most exciting thing going on in computing today. They're exciting for three or four reasons. Number one, ultimately computers are turning into communications devices and ultimately we're spending more and more of the cycles of the computer to not only make it easy to use but to make it easy to communicate. read on The Web is the missing piece of the puzzle which is really going to power that vision much farther forward. It's very exciting in that way. Secondly, it's very exciting because it is going to destroy vast layers of our economy and make available a presence in the marketplace for very small companies, one that is equal to very large companies. Let me give you an example. A small three-person company in Phoenix, Arizona can have a Web server that looks identical if not better than IBM's or the GAPs or anybody else, any large company. They can gain access to this electronic distribution channel for free. They don't have to build buildings. They don't have to sign up a thousand distributors and have people to call on them, etcetera, etcetera. In essence, direct distribution from the manufacturer to the customer via the Internet, via the Web, direct contact, direct transactions and distribution via UPS or Federal Express--that's going to be cheaper than going through all these middlemen or building hundreds of stores around the country. It is going radically change the way goods and services are discovered, sold and delivered, not only in this country but eventually all over the world. As you know, electrons travel at the speed of light and so it tends to bring the world much closer together in terms of providers and customers. That's pretty exciting. The levelling of big and small. The levelling of near and distant.

The third reason its very exciting is that Microsoft doesn't own it and I don't think they can. It's the one thing in the industry that Microsoft can probably never own.

In this section Steve also talks about why it's important that the government continued to fund the internet and that although he expects it to be a worldwide phenomenon, it remains pretty much a local one right now. The Internet

Pixar Software
If you go buy a laser disk of any of the Star Wars Films, if you stop it on some of the frames, they are really grungy. Incredibly noisy, very bad quality. George being the perfectionist he was, said "I'd like to do it perfectly", do it digitally; and nobody had ever done that before. He hired some very smart people and they figured out how to do it for him, digitally with no noise artifacts. They developed software and actually built some specialized hardware at the time. George had at some point decided that this is costing him several million dollars a year and decided that he didn't want to fund it anymore so I bought this group from George Lucas and I incorporated it as Pixar and we set about revolutionizing high end computer graphics. read on If you look at the ten most important revolutions in high end graphics, in the last ten years, eight of them have come out of Pixar. All of the software that was used to make Terminator, for example--to actually construct the images that you saw on the screen--or Jurassic Park with all the dinosaurs, was Pixar Software. Industrial Light and Magic uses it as the base for all of their stuff.

In this section Steve also talks about another vision of Pixar - to make real films and that Pixar will be world's first digital studio combining art and technology in a wonderful way. Pixar Software

New Possibilities
One of the things that happens in organizations as well as with people is that they settle into ways of looking at the world and become satisfied with things and the world changes and keeps evolving and new potential arises but these people who are settled in don't see it. That's what gives start-up companies their greatest advantage. The sedentary point of view is that of most large companies. read on In addition to that, large companies do not usually have efficient communication paths from the people closest to some of these changes at the bottom of the company to the top of the company which are the people making the big decisions. There may be people at lower levels of the company that see these changes coming but by the time the word ripples up to the highest levels where they can do something about it, it sometimes takes ten years. Even in the case where part of the company does the right thing at the lower levels, usually the upper levels screw it up somehow. I mean IBM and the personal computer business is a good example of that. I think as long as humans don't solve this human nature trait of sort of settling into a world view after a while, there will always be opportunity for young companies, young people to innovate. As it should be.

In this section Steve also talks about why death is the greatest invention of life. New Possibilities

Advice for Future Entrepreneurs
a lot of people come to me and say "I want to be an entrepreneur". And I go "Oh that's great, what's your idea?". And they say "I don't have one yet". And I say "I think you should go get a job as a busboy or something until you find something you're really passionate about because it's a lot of work". I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. It is so hard. read on You put so much of your life into this thing. There are such rough moments in time that I think most people give up. I don't blame them. Its really tough and it consumes your life. If you've got a family and you're in the early days of a company, I can't imagine how one could do it. I'm sure its been done but its rough. Its pretty much an eighteen hour day job, seven days a week for awhile. Unless you have a lot of passion about this, you're not going to survive. You're going to give it up. So you've got to have an idea, or a problem or a wrong that you want to right that you're passionate about otherwise you're not going to have the perseverance to stick it through. I think that's half the battle right there.

Read comlpete section. Advice for Future Entrepreneurs

The Responsibilities of Power
Obviously if you're running a company you have responsibilities but as an individual I don't think you have responsibilities. I think the work speaks for itself. I don't think that people have special responsibilities just because they've done something that other people like or don't like. I think the work speaks for itself. I think people could choose to do things if they want to but we're all going to be dead soon, that's my point of view. Somebody once told me, they said "Live each day as if it would be your last and one day you'll certainly be right." I do that. read on You never know when you're going to go but you are going to go pretty soon. If you're going to leave anything behind its going to be your kids, a few friends and your work. So that's what I tend to worry about. I don't tend to think about responsibility. A matter of fact I tend to like to on occasion pretend I don't have any responsibilities. I try to remember the last day when I didn't have anything to do and didn't have anything to do the following day that I had to do and I had no responsibilities. It was decades ago. I pretend when I want to feel that way. I don't think in those terms. I think you have a responsibility to do really good stuff and get it out there for people to use and let them build on the shoulders of it and keep making better stuff.

In this section Steve also names the various innovations that have come out of the Silicon Valley and why they originated there. The Responsibilities of Power

2 Comments so far      

Blogger Callum:

that's a great piece, i'm happy with your excerpt too... pretty interesting fella that jobs. to talk about art and truth - within a business world gets my philosophising friends hot under the collar. I am making my way through the PDF in order to understand how jobs feels about running a company, art, belief in product - how that all works with share-holders, boards of directors etc.

i'm having a hard-time defending mr. Jobs (hey its not my place to do so... but i kind of 'believe' in Apple unlike any company.) tough one.

your intro, i can understand and agree with.

hmm, thanks anyhow.

- Callum

29 July 2006 at 00:08:00 GMT+5:30 link  
Blogger Manu Sharma:

Thanks Callum. If you're interested in Steve Jobs, you'll love the docudrama Pirates Of Silicon Valley on Jobs' and Apple's professional beginnings and those of arch rival Microsoft. Highly entertaining.

You can download the entire movie here.

29 July 2006 at 01:40:00 GMT+5:30 link  

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