📚️ Book Notes: Steve Jobs
I see a lot of parallels in Jobs and Musk, combining great technology and aesthetic design with a team of A-players.
Here are my notes from Steve Jobs:
- The Jobses’ house and the others in their neighborhood were built by the real estate developer Joseph Eichler, whose company spawned more than eleven thousand homes in various California subdivisions between 1950 and 1974. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of simple modern homes for the American “everyman,” Eichler built inexpensive houses that featured floor-to-ceiling glass walls, open floor plans, exposed post-and-beam construction, concrete slab floors, and lots of sliding glass doors. “Eichler did a great thing,” Jobs said on one of our walks around the neighborhood. “His houses were smart and cheap and good. They brought clean design and simple taste to lower-income people. They had awesome little features, like radiant heating in the floors. You put carpet on them, and we had nice toasty floors when we were kids.”
Jobs said that his appreciation for Eichler homes instilled in him a passion for making nicely designed products for the mass market. “I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” he said as he pointed out the clean elegance of the houses. “It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.”
- One course that Jobs took would become part of Silicon Valley lore: the electronics class taught by John McCollum, a former Navy pilot who had a showman’s flair for exciting his students with such tricks as firing up a Tesla coil. His little stockroom, to which he would lend the key to pet students, was crammed with transistors and other components he had scored.
- Getting shocked was a badge of honor for Woz. He prided himself on being a hardware engineer, which meant that random shocks were routine. He once devised a roulette game where four people put their thumbs in a slot; when the ball landed, one would get shocked. “Hardware guys will play this game, but software guys are too chicken,” he noted.
- The partnership paved the way for what would be a bigger adventure together. “If it hadn’t been for the Blue Boxes, there wouldn’t have been an Apple,” Jobs later reflected. “I’m 100% sure of that. Woz and I learned how to work together, and we gained the confidence that we could solve technical problems and actually put something into production.” They had created a device with a little circuit board that could control billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure. “You cannot believe how much confidence that gave us.” Woz came to the same conclusion: “It was probably a bad idea selling them, but it gave us a taste of what we could do with my engineering skills and his vision.” The Blue Box adventure established a template for a partnership that would soon be born. Wozniak would be the gentle wizard coming up with a neat invention that he would have been happy just to give away, and Jobs would figure out how to make it user-friendly, put it together in a package, market it, and make a few bucks.
- “I came of age at a magical time,” he reflected later. “Our consciousness was raised by Zen, and also by LSD.” Even later in life he would credit psychedelic drugs for making him more enlightened. “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
- Jobs helped improve some of the games by pushing the chips to produce fun designs, and Bushnell’s inspiring willingness to play by his own rules rubbed off on him. In addition, he intuitively appreciated the simplicity of Atari’s games. They came with no manual and needed to be uncomplicated enough that a stoned freshman could figure them out. The only instructions for Atari’s Star Trek game were “1. Insert quarter. 2. Avoid Klingons.”
- Jobs came to believe that he could impart that feeling of confidence to others and thus push them to do things they hadn’t thought possible. Holmes had broken up with Kottke and joined a religious cult in San Francisco that expected her to sever ties with all past friends. But Jobs rejected that injunction. He arrived at the cult house in his Ford Ranchero one day and announced that he was driving up to Friedland’s apple farm and she was to come. Even more brazenly, he said she would have to drive part of the way, even though she didn’t know how to use the stick shift. “Once we got on the open road, he made me get behind the wheel, and he shifted the car until we got up to 55 miles per hour,” she recalled. “Then he puts on a tape of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, lays his head in my lap, and goes to sleep. He had the attitude that he could do anything, and therefore so can you. He put his life in my hands. So that made me do something I didn’t think I could do.”
It was the brighter side of what would become known as his reality distortion field. “If you trust him, you can do things,” Holmes said. “If he’s decided that something should happen, then he’s just going to make it happen.”
- The Atari experience helped shape Jobs’s approach to business and design. He appreciated the user-friendliness of Atari’s insert-quarter-avoid-Klingons games. “That simplicity rubbed off on him and made him a very focused product person,” said Ron Wayne. Jobs also absorbed some of Bushnell’s take-no-prisoners attitude. “Nolan wouldn’t take no for an answer,” according to Alcorn, “and this was Steve’s first impression of how things got done. Nolan was never abusive, like Steve sometimes is. But he had the same driven attitude. It made me cringe, but dammit, it got things done. In that way Nolan was a mentor for Jobs.”
- On January 3, 1977, the new corporation, the Apple Computer Co., was officially created, and it bought out the old partnership that had been formed by Jobs and Wozniak nine months earlier. Few people noticed. That month the Homebrew surveyed its members and found that, of the 181 who owned personal computers, only six owned an Apple. Jobs was convinced, however, that the Apple II would change that.
Markkula would become a father figure to Jobs. Like Jobs’s adoptive father, he would indulge Jobs’s strong will, and like his biological father, he would end up abandoning him. “Markkula was as much a father-son relationship as Steve ever had,” said the venture capitalist Arthur Rock. He began to teach Jobs about marketing and sales. “Mike really took me under his wing,” Jobs recalled. “His values were much aligned with mine. 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.”
Markkula wrote his principles in a one-page paper titled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” that stressed three points. The first was empathy, an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer: “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.” The second was focus: “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” The third and equally important principle, awkwardly named, was impute. It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. “People DO judge a book by its cover,” he wrote. “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”
For the rest of his career, Jobs would understand the needs and desires of customers better than any other business leader, he would focus on a handful of core products, and he would care, sometimes obsessively, about marketing and image and even the details of packaging. “When you open the box of an iPhone or iPad, we want that tactile experience to set the tone for how you perceive the product,” he said. “Mike taught me that.”
- 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, because 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 Jobs’s remained #2.
- The Apple raid on Xerox PARC is sometimes described as one of the biggest heists in the chronicles of industry.
- Was Jobs’s unfiltered behavior caused by a lack of emotional sensitivity? No. Almost the opposite. He was very emotionally attuned, able to read people and know their psychological strengths and vulnerabilities. He could stun an unsuspecting victim with an emotional towel-snap, perfectly aimed. He intuitively knew when someone was faking it or truly knew something. This made him masterful at cajoling, stroking, persuading, flattering, and intimidating people. “He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe,” Joanna Hoffman said. “It’s a common trait in people who are charismatic and know how to manipulate people. Knowing that he can crush you makes you feel weakened and eager for his approval, so then he can elevate you and put you on a pedestal and own you.”
- Very few other companies or corporate leaders—perhaps none—could have gotten away with the brilliant audacity of associating their brand with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso, and the Dalai Lama. Jobs was able to encourage people to define themselves as anticorporate, creative, innovative rebels simply by the computer they used. “Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Larry Ellison said. “There are cars people are proud to have—Porsche, Ferrari, Prius—because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.”
- One of his motivating passions was to build a lasting company. At age twelve, when he got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, he learned that a properly run company could spawn innovation far more than any single creative individual. “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company,” he recalled. “The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating. When I got the chance to come back to Apple, I realized that I would be useless without the company, and that’s why I decided to stay and rebuild it.”
- 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.
- Ed Woolard, his mentor on the Apple board, pressed Jobs for more than two years to drop the interim in front of his CEO title. Not only was Jobs refusing to commit himself, but he was baffling everyone by taking only $1 a year in pay and no stock options. “I make 50 cents for showing up,” he liked to joke, “and the other 50 cents is based on performance.” Since his return in July 1997, Apple stock had gone from just under $14 to just over $102 at the peak of the Internet bubble at the beginning of 2000. Woolard had begged him to take at least a modest stock grant back in 1997, but Jobs had declined, saying, “I don’t want the people I work with at Apple to think I am coming back to get rich.” Had he accepted that modest grant, it would have been worth $400 million. Instead he made $2.50 during that period.
- Apple’s first integrated foray into the digital hub strategy was video. With FireWire, you could get your video onto your Mac, and with iMovie you could edit it into a masterpiece. Then what? You’d want to burn some DVDs so you and your friends could watch it on a TV. “So we spent a lot of time working with the drive manufacturers to get a consumer drive that could burn a DVD,” he said. “We were the first to ever ship that.” As usual Jobs focused on making the product as simple as possible for the user, and this was the key to its success. Mike Evangelist, who worked at Apple on software design, recalled demonstrating to Jobs an early version of the interface. After looking at a bunch of screenshots, Jobs jumped up, grabbed a marker, and drew a simple rectangle on a whiteboard. “Here’s the new application,” he said. “It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says ‘Burn.’ That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.” Evangelist was dumbfounded, but it led to the simplicity of what became iDVD. Jobs even helped design the “Burn” button icon.
- In order to make the iPod really easy to use—and this took a lot of arguing on my part—we needed to limit what the device itself would do. Instead we put that functionality in iTunes on the computer. For example, we made it so you couldn’t make playlists using the device. You made playlists on iTunes, and then you synced with the device. That was controversial. But what made the Rio and other devices so brain-dead was that they were complicated. They had to do things like make playlists, because they weren’t integrated with the jukebox software on your computer. So by owning the iTunes software and the iPod device, that allowed us to make the computer and the device work together, and it allowed us to put the complexity in the right place.
- Jobs realized that there was yet another advantage to the fact that Apple had an integrated system of computer, software, and device. It meant that sales of the iPod would drive sales of the iMac. That, in turn, meant that he could take money that Apple was spending on iMac advertising and shift it to spending on iPod ads—getting a double bang for the buck. A triple bang, actually, because the ads would lend luster and youthfulness to the whole Apple brand. He recalled:
I had this crazy idea that we could sell just as many Macs by advertising the iPod. In addition, the iPod would position Apple as evoking innovation and youth. So I moved $75 million of advertising money to the iPod, even though the category didn’t justify one hundredth of that. That meant that we completely dominated the market for music players. We outspent everybody by a factor of about a hundred.
- Jobs’s proposal was to sell digital songs for 99 cents—a simple and impulsive purchase. The record companies would get 70 cents of that. Jobs insisted that this would be more appealing than the monthly subscription model preferred by the music companies. He believed that people had an emotional connection to the songs they loved. They wanted to own “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Shelter from the Storm,” not just rent them. As he told Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone at the time, “I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful.”
- 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. “We don’t have ‘divisions’ with their own P&L,” said Tim Cook. “We run one P&L for the company.”
In addition, like many companies, Sony worried about cannibalization. If it built a music player and service that made it easy for people to share digital songs, that might hurt sales of its record division. 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.
- 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.
- He finally became convinced in January 2009, just after he claimed his “hormonal imbalance” could be treated easily. But there was a problem. He was put on the wait list for a liver transplant in California, but it became clear he would never get one there in time. The number of available donors with his blood type was small. Also, the metrics used by the United Network for Organ Sharing, which establishes policies in the United States, favored those suffering from cirrhosis and hepatitis over cancer patients.
There is no legal way for a patient, even one as wealthy as Jobs, to jump the queue, and he didn’t. Recipients are chosen based on their MELD score (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease), which uses lab tests of hormone levels to determine how urgently a transplant is needed, and on the length of time they have been waiting. Every donation is closely audited, data are available on public websites (optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/), and you can monitor your status on the wait list at any time.
Powell became the troller of the organ-donation websites, checking in every night to see how many were on the wait lists, what their MELD scores were, and how long they had been on. “You can do the math, which I did, and it would have been way past June before he got a liver in California, and the doctors felt that his liver would give out in about April,” she recalled. So she started asking questions and discovered that it was permissible to be on the list in two different states at the same time, which is something that about 3% of potential recipients do. Such multiple listing is not discouraged by policy, even though critics say it favors the rich, but it is difficult. There were two major requirements: The potential recipient had to be able to get to the chosen hospital within eight hours, which Jobs could do thanks to his plane, and the doctors from that hospital had to evaluate the patient in person before adding him or her to the list.
- On one conference call with analysts shortly after Jobs went on leave, Cook departed from his unemotional style to give a rousing declaration of why Apple would continue to soar even with Jobs absent:
We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products, and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think, regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.
- The following Saturday afternoon, Jobs allowed his wife to convene a meeting of his doctors. He realized that he was facing the type of problem that he never permitted at Apple. His treatment was fragmented rather than integrated. Each of his myriad maladies was being treated by different specialists—oncologists, pain specialists, nutritionists, hepatologists, and hematologists—but they were not being co-ordinated in a cohesive approach, the way James Eason had done in Memphis. “One of the big issues in the health care industry is the lack of caseworkers or advocates that are the quarterback of each team,” Powell said. This was particularly true at Stanford, where nobody seemed in charge of figuring out how nutrition was related to pain care and to oncology. So Powell asked the various Stanford specialists to come to their house for a meeting that also included some outside doctors with a more aggressive and integrated approach, such as David Agus of USC. They agreed on a new regimen for dealing with the pain and for coordinating the other treatments.
Thanks to some pioneering science, the team of doctors had been able to keep Jobs one step ahead of the cancer. He had become one of the first twenty people in the world to have all of the genes of his cancer tumor as well as of his normal DNA sequenced. It was a process that, at the time, cost more than $100,000.
If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯
Until We Meet Again…