The Big Idea
A superbly told story of the superbly lived life of Steve Jobs, one of the best entrepreneurs and leaders America has ever seen
He [Jobs] was musing about why folks over thirty develop rigid thought patterns and tend to be less innovative. “People get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them,” he said. At age forty-five, Jobs was now about to get out of his groove.
9.5/10 – This has secured the coveted top shelf in my personal library, meaning that I re-read it once a year. Gems in every chapter.
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.”
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” and “People who are serious about software should make their own hardware.”
As he once said, “Picasso had a saying—‘good artists copy, great artists steal’—and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
He was an antimaterialistic hippie who capitalized on the inventions of a friend who wanted to give them away for free, and he was a Zen devotee who made a pilgrimage to India and then decided that his calling was to create a business.
“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.”
Let’s make it simple. Really simple.” Apple’s design mantra would remain the one featured on its first brochure: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
BUILDING THE MAC The Journey Is the Reward
Throughout his career, Jobs liked to see himself as an enlightened rebel pitted against evil empires, a Jedi warrior or Buddhist samurai fighting the forces of darkness. IBM was his perfect foil. He cleverly cast the upcoming battle not as a mere business competition, but as a spiritual struggle.
Another chart contained a kōan-like phrase that he later told me was his favorite maxim: “The journey is the reward.” The Mac team, he liked to emphasize, was a special corps with an exalted mission. Someday they would all look back on their journey together and, forgetting or laughing off the painful moments, would regard it as a magical high point in their lives.
At the end of the presentation someone asked whether he thought they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” he replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”
“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.”
On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”
But even though Microsoft created a crudely copied series of products, it would end up winning the war of operating systems. This exposed an aesthetic flaw in how the universe worked: The best and most innovative products don’t always win.
But Jobs had latched onto what he believed was a key management lesson from his Macintosh experience: You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. “It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players,” he recalled.
“The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.”
At one point he was going just over 100 miles per hour when a policeman stopped him and began writing a ticket. After a few minutes, as the officer scribbled away, Jobs honked. “Excuse me?” the policeman said. Jobs replied, “I’m in a hurry.” Amazingly, the officer didn’t get mad. He simply finished writing the ticket and warned that if Jobs was caught going over 55 again he would be sent to jail. As soon as the policeman left, Jobs got back on the road and accelerated to 100. “He absolutely believed that the normal rules didn’t apply to him,” Rossmann marveled.
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.”
What particularly struck Nocera was Jobs’s “almost willful lack of tact.” It was more than just an inability to hide his opinions when others said something he thought dumb; it was a conscious readiness, even a perverse eagerness, to put people down, humiliate them, show he was smarter.
When Kapor began slathering butter on his bread, Jobs asked him, “Have you ever heard of serum cholesterol?” Kapor responded, “I’ll make you a deal. You stay away from commenting on my dietary habits, and I will stay away from the subject of your personality.” It was meant humorously, but as Kapor later commented, “Human relationships were not his strong suit.” Lotus agreed to write a spreadsheet program for the NeXT operating system.
The process followed the Japanese principle known as kanban, in which each machine performs its task only when the next machine is ready to receive another part.
“Part of my responsibility is to be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
The quote he chose was from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. After Alice laments that no matter how hard she tries she can’t believe impossible things, the White Queen retorts, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Especially from the front rows, there was a roar of knowing laughter.
The lesson Jobs learned from his Buddhist days was that material possessions often cluttered life rather than enriched it.
Having transformed personal computers in his twenties, he would now help to do the same for music players, the recording industry’s business model, mobile phones, apps, tablet computers, books, and journalism.
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.
“Jobs, exuding confidence, style, and sheer magnetism, was the antithesis of the fumbling Amelio as he strode onstage,” Carlton wrote.
He asked Markkula what the formula for that would be. Markkula replied that lasting companies know how to reinvent themselves. Hewlett-Packard had done that repeatedly; it started as an instrument company, then became a calculator company, then a computer company.
Campbell had been a football coach at Columbia, and his great talent, Jobs said, was to “get A performances out of B players.” At Apple, Jobs told him, he would get to work with A players.
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.
Starting with the “Think Different” campaign, and continuing through the rest of his years at Apple, Jobs held a freewheeling three-hour meeting every Wednesday afternoon with his top agency, marketing, and communications people to kick around messaging strategy.
One of Jobs’s great strengths was knowing how to focus. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he said. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
One of the first things Jobs did during the product review process was ban PowerPoints. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs later recalled. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”
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.
And for the first time he ended the presentation with a phrase that he would make his signature coda: “Oh, and one more thing . . .”
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.
His management mantra was “Focus.” He eliminated excess product lines and cut extraneous features in the new operating system software that Apple was developing. He let go of his control-freak desire to manufacture products in his own factories and instead outsourced the making of everything from the circuit boards to the finished computers. And he enforced on Apple’s suppliers a rigorous discipline. When he took over, Apple had more than two months’ worth of inventory sitting in warehouses, more than any other tech company. Like eggs and milk, computers have a short shelf life, so this amounted to at least a $500 million hit to profits. By early 1998 he had halved that to a month. Jobs’s
At Apple his role became implementing Jobs’s intuition, which he accomplished with a quiet diligence. Never married, he threw himself into his work. He was up most days at 4:30 sending emails, then spent an hour at the gym, and was at his desk shortly after 6. He scheduled Sunday evening conference calls to prepare for each week ahead. In a company that was led by a CEO prone to tantrums and withering blasts, Cook commanded situations with a calm demeanor, a soothing Alabama accent, and silent stares.
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.
Once a year Jobs took his most valuable employees on a retreat, which he called “The Top 100.” They were picked based on a simple guideline: the people you would bring if you could take only a hundred people with you on a lifeboat to your next company.
At the end of each retreat, Jobs would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the ten things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down, and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”
He was musing about why folks over thirty develop rigid thought patterns and tend to be less innovative. “People get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them,” he said. At age forty-five, Jobs was now about to get out of his groove.
“Steve prefers to be in the moment, talking things through. He once told me, ‘If you need slides, it shows you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ”
Eddy Cue, who was in charge of the store, predicted that Apple would sell a million songs in six months. Instead the iTunes Store sold a million songs in six days.
Jobs was never prone to understatement. To the cheers of the crowd, he declared, “iTunes for Windows is probably the best Windows app ever written.”
We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.
One of Jobs’s business rules was to never be afraid of cannibalizing yourself.
“If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will,” he said. So even though an iPhone might cannibalize sales of an iPod, or an iPad might cannibalize sales of a laptop, that did not deter him.
As competitors stumbled and Apple continued to innovate, music became a larger part of Apple’s business. In January 2007 iPod sales were half of Apple’s revenues.
“Steve had this firm belief that the right kind of building can do great things for a culture,” said Pixar’s president Ed Catmull.
“Every negotiation needs to be resolved by compromises,” Iger said. “Neither one of them is a master of compromise.”
“My goal has always been not only to make great products, but to build great companies,” Jobs later said. “Walt Disney did that. And the way we did the merger, we kept Pixar as a great company and helped Disney remain one as well.”
“We make progress by eliminating things, by removing the superfluous.”
To the horror of his friends and wife, Jobs decided not to have surgery to remove the tumor, which was the only accepted medical approach. “I really didn’t want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work,” he told me years later with a hint of regret.
Unfortunately the cancer had spread. During the operation the doctors found three liver metastases. Had they operated nine months earlier, they might have caught it before it spread, though they would never know for sure. Jobs began chemotherapy treatments, which further complicated his eating challenges. The
For help with the speech, he called the brilliant scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing). Jobs sent him some thoughts. “That was in February, and I heard nothing, so I ping him again in April, and he says, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and I send him a few more thoughts,” Jobs recounted. “I finally get him on the phone, and he keeps saying ‘Yeah,’ but finally it’s the beginning of June, and he never sent me anything.”
Alex Haley once said that the best way to begin a speech is “Let me tell you a story.” Nobody is eager for a lecture, but everybody loves a story. And that was the approach Jobs chose. “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life,” he began. “That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
“What I learned about Steve was that people mistook some of his comments as ranting or negativism, but it was really just the way he showed passion. So that’s how I processed it, and I never took issues personally.”
“I realized very early that if you didn’t voice your opinion, he would mow you down,” said Cook. “He takes contrary positions to create more discussion, because it may lead to a better result. So if you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing, then you’ll never survive.”
The key venue for freewheeling discourse was the Monday morning executive team gathering, which started at 9 and went for three or four hours. The focus was always on the future: What should each product do next? What new things should be developed? Jobs used the meeting to enforce a sense of shared mission at Apple. This served to centralize control, which made the company seem as tightly integrated as a good Apple product, and prevented the struggles between divisions that plagued decentralized companies.
Jobs also used the meetings to enforce focus. At Robert Friedland’s farm, his job had been to prune the apple trees so that they would stay strong, and that became a metaphor for his pruning at Apple. Instead of encouraging each group to let product lines proliferate based on marketing considerations, or permitting a thousand ideas to bloom, Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.
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 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.”
“Steve, can I talk to you?” he would quietly say when Jobs had belittled someone publicly. He would go into Jobs’s office and explain how hard everyone was working. “When you humiliate them, it’s more debilitating than stimulating,” he said in one such session.
Fadell had been trying hard to develop the trackwheel model, but he admitted they had not cracked the problem of figuring out a simple way to dial calls. The multi-touch approach was riskier, because they were unsure whether they could execute the engineering, but it was also more exciting and promising. “We all know this is the one we want to do,” said Jobs, pointing to the touchscreen. “So let’s make it work.” It was what he liked to call a bet-the-company moment, high risk and high reward if it succeeded.
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.”
“Guys, you’ve killed yourselves over this design for the last nine months, but we’re going to change it,” Jobs told Ive’s team. “We’re all going to have to work nights and weekends, and if you want we can hand out some guns so you can kill us now.” Instead of balking, the team agreed. “It was one of my proudest moments at Apple,” Jobs recalled.
“Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.” He repeated the list for emphasis, then asked, “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”
In less than a month Apple sold one million iPads. That was twice as fast as it took the iPhone to reach that mark. By March 2011, nine months after its release, fifteen million had been sold. By some measures it became the most successful consumer product launch in history.
The App Store for the iPhone opened on iTunes in July 2008; the billionth download came nine months later. By the time the iPad went on sale in April 2010, there were 185,000 available iPhone apps. Most could also be used on the iPad, although they didn’t take advantage of the bigger screen size. But in less than five months, developers had written twenty-five thousand new apps that were specifically configured for the iPad. By July 2011 there were 500,000 apps for both devices, and there had been more than fifteen billion downloads of them.
“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.
For his part, Murdoch was reported to have uttered a great line about the organic vegan dishes typically served: “Eating dinner at Steve’s is a great experience, as long as you get out before the local restaurants close.”
Even if Google’s approach might eventually win in the marketplace, Jobs found it repellent. “I like being responsible for the whole user experience. We do it not to make money. We do it because we want to make great products, not crap like Android.”
The pornography ban also caused problems. “We believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone,” Jobs declared in an email to a customer. “Folks who want porn can buy an Android.”
We didn’t know much about each other twenty years ago. We were guided by our intuition; you swept me off my feet. It was snowing when we got married at the Ahwahnee. Years passed, kids came, good times, hard times, but never bad times. Our love and respect has endured and grown. We’ve been through so much together and here we are right back where we started 20 years ago—older, wiser—with wrinkles on our faces and hearts. We now know many of life’s joys, sufferings, secrets and wonders and we’re still here together. My feet have never returned to the ground. By the end of the recitation he was crying uncontrollably.
“One of the very few silver linings about me getting sick is that Reed’s gotten to spend a lot of time studying with some very good doctors,” Jobs said. “His enthusiasm for it is exactly how I felt about computers when I was his age. I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning, just like the digital one was when I was his age.”
“Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm,” she said. “He doesn’t have social graces, such as putting himself in other people’s shoes, but he cares deeply about empowering humankind, the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands.”
Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.