Steve Jobs | Excerpts

Posted on September 4, 2013

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Walter Isaacson. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster, 2011. (627 pages)

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The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. – Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

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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.” (15)

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“Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.” (78)

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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (80)

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Alan Kay…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.” (95)

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“Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’…” (98)

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“It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.”

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“The best thing ever to happen to Steve is when we fired him, told him to get lost,” Arthur Rock later said. The theory, shared by many, is that the tough love made him wiser and more mature. But it’s not that simple. At the company he founded after being ousted from Apple, Jobs was able to indulge all of his instincts, both good and bad. He was unbound. The result was a series of spectacular products that were dazzling market flops. This was the true learning experience. What prepared him for the great success he would have in Act III was not his ouster from his Act I at Apple but his brilliant failures in Act II. (219)

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He and Egan also spoke for hours on the phone many nights. One topic they wrestled with was his belief, which came from his Buddhist studies, that it was important to avoid attachment to material objects. Our consumer desires are unhealthy, he told her, and to attain enlightenment you need to develop a life of non-attachment and non-materialism. He even sent her a tape of Kobun Chino, his Zen teacher, lecturing about the problems caused by craving and obtaining things. Egan pushed back. Wasn’t he defying that philosophy, she asked, by making computers and other products that people coveted? “He was irritated by the dichotomy, and we had exuberant debates about it,” Egan recalled.

In the end Jobs’s pride int he objects he made overcame his sensibility that people should eschew being attached to such possessions. (262)

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“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney

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He had told Larry Ellison that his return strategy was to sell NeXT to Apple, get appointed to the board, and be there ready when CEO Gil Amelio stumbled. Ellison may have been baffled when Jobs insisted that he was not motivated by money, but it was partly true. He had neither Ellison’s conspicuous consumption needs nor Gates’s philanthropic impulses nor the competitive urge to see how high on the Forbes list he could get. Instead his ego needs and personal drives led him to seek fulfillment by creating a legacy that would awe people. A dual legacy, actually: building innovative products and building a lasting company. He wanted to be in the pantheon with, indeed a notch above, people like Edwin Land, Bill Hewlett, and David Packard. And the best way to achieve all this was to return to Apple and reclaim his kingdom. (306)

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“We’ve got to get the spark back,…” (307)

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Helmut Sonnenfeldt once said of Henry Kissinger, “He lies not because it’s in his interest, he lies because it’s in his nature.” It was in Jobs’s nature to mislead or be secretive when he felt it was warranted. But he also indulged in being brutally honest at times, telling the truths that most of us sugarcoat or suppress. Both the dissembling and the truth-telling were simply different aspects of his Nietzschean attitude that ordinary rules didn’t apply to him. (313)

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This chokes me up, this really chokes me up. It was so clear that lee loved Apple so much. Here was the best guy in advertising. And he hadn’t pitched in ten years. yet here he was, and he was pitching his heart out, because he loved Apple as much as we did. He and his team had come up with this brilliant idea, “Think Different.” And it was ten times better than anything the other agencies showed. It choked me up, and it still makes me cry to think about it, both the fact that Lee cared so much and also how brilliant his “Think Different” idea was. Every once in a while, I find myself in the presence of purity — purity of spirit and love — and I always cry. It always just reaches in and grabs me. That was one of those moments. There was a purity about that I will never forget. I cried in my office as he was showing me the idea, and I still cry when I think about it.

Jobs and Clow agreed that Apple was one of the great brands of the world, probably in the top five based on emotional appeal, but they needed to remind folks what was distinctive about it. So they wanted a brand image campaign, not a set of advertisements featuring products. It was designed to celebrate not what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with computers. “This wasn’t about processor speed or memory,” Jobs recalled. “It was about creativity.” (328)

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Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

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After a few weeks Jobs finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted at one big product strategy session. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. “Here’s what we need,” he continued. Atop the two columns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro”; he labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant. “The room was in dumb silence,” Schiller recalled. (337)

The result was that the Apple engineers and managers suddenly became sharply focused on just four areas. (338)

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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 complexity, 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.

That was the fundamental principle Jobs and Ive shared. Design was not just about what a product looked like on the surface. It had to reflect the product’s essence. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer,” Jobs told Fortune shortly after retaking the reins at Apple. “But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.” (343)

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“I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theater, it can create a story.” – Jony Ive (347)

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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. (362)

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His goal as to be vigilant against “the bozo explosion” that leads to a company’s being larded with second-rate talent:

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. People 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 going 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. (363)

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He believed that people had an emotional connection to the songs they loved. … “I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful.” (397)

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“Piracy and online downloads had already deconstructed the album,” recalled Jobs. “You couldn’t compete with piracy unless you sold the songs individually.”

At the heard of the problem was a chasm between the people who loved technology and those who loved artistry. Jobs loved both, as he had demonstrated at Pixar and Apple, and he was thus positioned to bridge the gap. He later explained:

When I went to Pixar, I became aware of a great divide. Tech companies don’t understand creativity. They don’t appreciate intuitive thinking, like the ability of an A&R guy at a music label to listen to a hundred artists and have a feel for which five might be successful. And they think that creative people just sit around on couches all day and are undisciplined, because they’ve not seen how driven and disciplined the creative folks at places like Pixar are. On the other hand, music companies are completely clueless about technology. They think they can just go out and hire a few tech folks. But that would be like Apple trying to hire people to produce music. We’d get second-rate A&R people, just like the music companies ended up with second-rate tech people. I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline. (397)

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“The job of art is to chase ugliness away.” – Bono

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There was one classical musician Jobs revered both as a person and as a performer: Yo-Yo Ma, the versatile virtuoso who is as sweet and profound as the tones he creates on his cello. They had met in 1981, when Jobs was at the Aspen Design Conference and Ma was at the Aspen Music Festival. Jobs tended to be deeply moved by artists who displayed purity, and he became a fan. He invited Ma to play at his wedding, but he was out of the country on tour. He came by the Jobs house a few years later, sat in the living room, pulled out his 1733 Stradivarius cello, and played Bach. “This is what I would have played for your wedding,” he told them. Jobs teared up and told him, “You playing is the best argument I’ve ever heard of the existence of God, because I don’t really believe a human alone can do this.” (425)

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Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” (431)

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“I think Steve has such a strong desire for the world to be a certain way that he wills it to be that way,” [Art] Levinson speculated. “Sometimes it doesn’t work. Reality is unforgiving.” The flip side of his wondrous ability to focus was his fearsome willingness to filter out things he did not wish to deal with. (454)

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In ancient Rome, when a victorious general paraded through the streets, legend has it that he was sometimes trailed by a servant whose job it was to repeat to him, “memento mori”: Remember you will die. A reminder of mortality would help the hero keep things in perspective, instill some humility. Jobs’s memento mori had been delivered by his doctors, but it did not instill humility. Instead he roared back after his recovery with even more passion. The illness reminded him that he had nothing to lose, so he should forge ahead full speed. “He came back on a mission,” said [Tim] Cook. “even though he was now running a large company, he kept making bold moves that I don’t think anybody else would have done.” (461)

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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 destructive 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.” (508)

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We [Steve Jobs & Larry Page] talked a lot about focus. And choosing people. How to know who to trust, and how to build a team of lieutenants he can count on. I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby or being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. they’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great. I tried to be as helpful as I could. I will continue to do that with people like Mark Zuckerberg too. that’s how I’m going to spend part of the time I have left. I can help the next generation remember the lineage of great companies here and how to continue the tradition. The Valley has been very supportive of me. I should do my best to repay. (552)

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The astronomer Johannes Kepler declared that “nature loves simplicity and unity.” So did Steve Jobs. (561)

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Steve Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century form now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology. (566-567)

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