#19 Becoming Steve Jobs

Summary Notes


In this podcast, the host delves into the complexities of Steve Jobs' character and career, highlighting insights from the book "Becoming Steve Jobs" by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. Despite his early reputation as an egomaniac unwilling to learn, Jobs was, in fact, deeply observant and eager to learn from successful company builders like David Packard and Bob Noyce. The authors argue that Jobs' so-called "wilderness years" between his stints at Apple were critical to his development, as they taught him invaluable lessons from failures and shaped the visionary leader he became. The episode emphasizes Jobs' relentless quest for knowledge, his evolution from an impulsive leader to a strategic negotiator exemplified by the Pixar-Disney deal, and his ultimate belief in the power of loving one's work. The host also reflects on Jobs' ability to simplify and focus on what truly mattered, leading to Apple's innovative products and the creation of a new computing paradigm.

Summary Notes

Reputation and Misunderstanding of Steve Jobs

  • Steve Jobs had a reputation as an egomaniac unwilling to learn from others.
  • This perception is a fundamental misunderstanding of his character.
  • Despite quarrels with Apple colleagues, Jobs admired and learned from established company builders.
  • He sought guidance from industry leaders like David Packard and Bob Noyce.

"Steve developed a reputation as an egomaniac who wasn't willing to learn from others."

This quote highlights the misconception about Steve Jobs' willingness to learn from others, which contrasts with the reality of his admiration for and efforts to learn from successful company founders.

Steve Jobs' Pursuit of Mentorship and Learning

  • Jobs recognized his lack of skills in building a great company.
  • He actively pursued mentorship from industry leaders.
  • Notable figures he learned from include David Packard, Bob Noyce, and Andy Grove.
  • His interactions with these figures deeply influenced him.

"He didn't yet have the skills to build a great company, but he admired those who had pulled it off, and he would go to great lengths to meet them and learn from them."

This quote emphasizes Jobs' humility and eagerness to learn from those who had successfully built companies, highlighting his pursuit of growth and knowledge despite his reputation.

"Becoming Steve Jobs" Book Discussion

  • The book "Becoming Steve Jobs" offers a new perspective on Jobs' life.
  • The authors, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, focus on Jobs' evolution as a leader.
  • The book contrasts with Walter Isaacson's authorized biography.
  • It explores Jobs' wilderness years (1985-1997) as foundational to his later success.

"The evolution of a reckless upstart into a visionary leader."

This quote encapsulates the central theme of the book, which is to trace the growth of Steve Jobs from an impulsive young entrepreneur to a mature and visionary leader.

Learning from Steve Jobs' Wilderness Years

  • The wilderness years were a time of learning and personal development for Jobs.
  • Failures and challenges during this period were crucial to his later achievements.
  • The book suggests that understanding Jobs' failures is as important as celebrating his successes.
  • These experiences contributed to his vision, understanding, patience, and wisdom.

"The failures, stinging reversals, miscommunications, bad judgment calls, emphasis on wrong values, the whole pandora's box of immaturity were necessary prerequisites to the clarity, moderation, reflection, and steadiness he would display in his later years."

This quote underlines the importance of Jobs' difficult experiences in shaping the leader he would become, suggesting that his struggles were essential to his development.

Steve Jobs' Verbal Mastery

  • Steve Jobs was known for his verbal mastery.
  • He had a talent for demystifying complex technology for the average person.
  • Jobs used analogies and relatable concepts to explain the value of computers.
  • His communication skills were instrumental in promoting Apple's products.

"People have been hearing all sorts of things about computers during the past ten years through the media... Now, for the first time, people can actually buy a computer for the price of a good stereo, interact with it, and find out all about it."

This quote showcases Jobs' ability to articulate the significance of personal computing in a way that was accessible and appealing to the general public.

Steve Jobs' Negotiation Tactics and Immaturity

  • Jobs' immaturity impacted his business negotiations.
  • His behavior during negotiations with IBM demonstrated a mix of arrogance and insecurity.
  • Jobs' failed partnership with IBM was a result of his poor negotiation skills.
  • This failure was a pivotal moment for NeXT and Jobs' career.

"But Steve never seemed to quite know how to play his cards with IBM. He displayed an unsettled and juvenile mix of hubris and uncertainty."

This quote reflects on Jobs' inconsistent and often counterproductive approach to business negotiations, highlighting his immaturity at the time.

Steve Jobs and Pixar

  • Jobs had a profound respect for Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar.
  • He valued Catmull's intellect and quiet strength.
  • Jobs and Catmull's relationship lasted 26 years and was mutually enriching.

"I liked him from the moment I met him... He's used to hanging around really smart people. And when you're around really smart people, you tend to listen to them."

This quote reveals Jobs' admiration for Catmull's intelligence and collaborative nature, which contributed to their successful partnership at Pixar.

Steve Jobs' Return to Apple

  • Gil Amelio's tenure as CEO of Apple was seen as ineffective by Jobs.
  • Jobs perceived Amelio as lacking in-depth knowledge of the personal computer market.
  • The purchase of NeXT by Apple, orchestrated by Amelio, led to Jobs' return.

"He believed that described who ascended to the CEO position after just one year on the board, had maneuvered himself into the gig by positioning himself a turnaround expert."

This quote reflects Jobs' critical view of Amelio's capabilities as CEO and his skepticism towards Amelio's self-proclaimed expertise in turning companies around.

Jeff Bezos' Reaction to Gil Amelio's Metaphor

  • Jeff Bezos criticized Gil Amelio's metaphor about Apple being a boat with a hole and treasure, which he found nonsensical and not reflective of an owner's mindset.
  • Amelio struggled to adapt to Apple and tried to reshape it in his image, which was ineffective.
  • Amelio's public communication was weak, as demonstrated by the boat metaphor that confused listeners, including Larry Ellison.

"And it's this funny story in Bradstone's book where Jeff says that's the stupidest thing he's ever heard, that that's not thinking like an owner."

This quote highlights Jeff Bezos' strong reaction to Gil Amelio's metaphor, indicating that Bezos viewed it as illogical and unreflective of a responsible business owner's attitude.

Steve Jobs' Approach to Leadership and Communication

  • Steve Jobs was preparing to replace Gil Amelio at Apple, viewing him as incompetent.
  • Jobs' communication style was contrasted with Amelio's, with Jobs favoring clarity and directness.
  • The story of Amelio's confusing metaphor serves as an example of ineffective communication in leadership.

"I think it's also example, and I know it's only a few sentences from Gil, but example of how Tim and jobs were very different in communicating that story is really confusing."

This quote illustrates the difference in communication styles between Steve Jobs and Gil Amelio, with Jobs being more direct and comprehensible.

Steve Jobs and Pixar's Success

  • Steve Jobs invested heavily in Pixar, which eventually led to his becoming a billionaire before his success with Apple.
  • Jobs renegotiated Pixar's distribution contract with Disney, demonstrating his business acumen even after a long hiatus from Apple.
  • Pixar's success with "Toy Story" and a strategic IPO positioned the company to renegotiate terms with Disney from a place of strength.

"So this is Steve renegotiates with Disney. And it's a great example of even in 97, after being in the wilderness for twelve years, that Steve's starting to get really good at what he's doing."

This quote emphasizes Steve Jobs' strategic thinking and negotiating skills, which were evident in the way he managed Pixar's relationship with Disney.

Steve Jobs' Negotiation with Disney

  • Steve Jobs recognized the leverage Pixar had over Disney and used it to renegotiate a more favorable contract.
  • The deal with Disney was a turning point, with Pixar earning a fair share of profits and becoming a co-financier of its films.
  • Jobs' negotiation reflected his understanding of industry dynamics and his ability to make bold demands.

"Steve put in a call to Eisner and headed to Hollywood to renegotiate."

The quote captures the proactive and assertive approach Steve Jobs took in renegotiating the deal with Disney, highlighting his confidence and business strategy.

Steve Jobs and Simplicity

  • Steve Jobs valued simplicity in all aspects of business, from product design to marketing.
  • Jobs' approach to simplicity was contrasted with Bill Gates' more complex business strategies.
  • The simplicity of Apple's products and marketing was a hallmark of Jobs' leadership.

"And so this is Bill Gates on Steve Jobs simplicity."

This quote introduces the theme of simplicity as a core principle of Steve Jobs' philosophy, which set him apart from other tech industry leaders like Bill Gates.

Steve Jobs' Negotiations with Microsoft

  • Steve Jobs simplified negotiations with Microsoft, focusing on key objectives and dropping non-essential demands.
  • Jobs' negotiation with Bill Gates resulted in Microsoft committing to support the Macintosh with Office and investing in Apple.
  • Jobs' ability to streamline complex negotiations was a testament to his strategic thinking and focus on essential goals.

"And then when Steve comes in, he looks at the deal and says, here are the two things I want, and here's what you clearly want from us."

This quote illustrates Steve Jobs' ability to identify and prioritize the most important aspects of a negotiation, leading to a quick and successful agreement with Microsoft.

Steve Jobs' Return to Apple

  • Steve Jobs' return to Apple was costly but ultimately invaluable, as he transformed the company's fortunes.
  • The acquisition of NeXT and the cancellation of licensing agreements were necessary steps to reinstate Jobs and set Apple on a new path.
  • Jobs' leadership and vision justified the expense of his return, as evidenced by Apple's subsequent growth.

"A more revealing way to think of it is that Apple had just shelled out more than a half a billion dollars to rehire Steve Jobs."

This quote reflects the significant financial investment Apple made to bring Steve Jobs back, which is portrayed as a pivotal and worthwhile decision given Apple's later success.

Steve Jobs as an Artist

  • Steve Jobs viewed himself as an artist, continually seeking new challenges and willing to risk failure.
  • Jobs' return to Apple was a personal decision driven by his desire to make a meaningful impact, regardless of the potential for failure.
  • Jobs' artistic mindset was evident in his approach to business and innovation.

"If they keep on risking failure, they're still artists. Dylan and Picasso were always risking failure. This Apple thing is that way for me."

The quote conveys Steve Jobs' philosophy of embracing risk and innovation, likening himself to famous artists who never settled for complacency.

Steve Jobs' Dislike of Formality

  • Steve Jobs eschewed formal processes and preferred a more direct and informal approach to management.
  • His leadership style was characterized by a lack of formal reviews and a focus on hands-on involvement.
  • Jobs' preference for informality was part of his broader approach to business simplicity.

"Steve didn't believe in reviews. He disliked a"

This incomplete quote suggests Steve Jobs' aversion to formal performance reviews, which is consistent with his overall preference for simplicity and directness in management.

Feedback and Performance Reviews

  • Steve Jobs was known for his informal approach to feedback, questioning the need for formal reviews.
  • He viewed many corporate practices, such as writing reviews, as "fake work" that didn't add value to the company.
  • Brent Schlender hired an executive coach for 360 reviews, but Steve Jobs was dismissive of it.

"What do you need that for? That's a waste of time."

The quote reflects Steve Jobs' belief that formal performance reviews are unnecessary and unproductive, aligning with his philosophy of avoiding "fake work".

Building Companies and Products

  • Steve Jobs' primary motivation for building a company was to create products.
  • He believed that a strong company and culture are essential for continuous product innovation.
  • Jobs viewed the company as a means to an end, with the end goal being the creation of great products.
  • He valued working with talented and creative people over financial gain.

"The only purpose for me in building a company is so that the company can make products."

This quote from Steve Jobs encapsulates his product-centric vision for a company, emphasizing product creation as the ultimate goal.

Quality as a Strategy

  • Steve Jobs echoed the idea that high-quality products lead to business success.
  • Brent Schlender compared this philosophy to that of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia.
  • Jobs' focus on product quality was consistent throughout his career and influenced key decisions.

"The product we trust if we do a good job and the product's good, people will like it."

Steve Jobs' trust in product quality as a strategy is evident in this quote, highlighting his belief in the intrinsic value of well-made products.

User Interface and Human Interaction

  • Steve Jobs was fascinated with the user interface as the critical point of interaction between a person and a computer.
  • He understood that complexity in this area could prevent users from unlocking the full potential of technology.
  • Jobs' insight into human behavior led him to design systems for real people, not just "rational" customers.

"Most people don't care about the innards of the computer. They care only about what's on the screen and what they can get to through that screen."

Jobs' quote reflects his understanding of user priorities and his focus on the user interface as a key to accessible technology.

Innovation and Learning

  • Steve Jobs valued learning about new technologies and markets, which he found enjoyable.
  • The iPod's success accelerated Apple's innovation and organizational discipline.
  • Jobs believed in staying curious and open to ideas, regardless of their origin.

"Learning about new technologies and markets is what makes this fun for me and for everyone at Apple."

This quote from Steve Jobs indicates his passion for continuous learning and innovation, which he saw as central to Apple's culture.

Retail Strategy and Online Store

  • Steve Jobs was critical of traditional retail channels for their lack of alignment with Apple's aesthetic and marketing.
  • He pushed for an online store to sell directly to customers, despite concerns about alienating retail partners.
  • Jobs' direct-to-customer approach was validated by the initial success of Apple's online store.

"Who gives a fuck about the channel?"

Eddie Cue's blunt question, which caught Steve Jobs' attention, highlights the bold approach to bypassing traditional retail channels in favor of direct sales.

Store Design and Customer Experience

  • Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson rethought Apple store layouts to align with the 'digital hub' concept.
  • Jobs learned from Pixar the importance of not being governed by release dates and striving for perfection.
  • The new store design focused on customer experience and the integration of Apple products.

"It's not about how fast you do something. It's about doing your level best."

Jobs' quote underscores his commitment to quality and the willingness to rethink decisions for better outcomes.

Leadership and Delegation

  • Steve Jobs evolved from a micromanager to an effective delegator.
  • He provided clear direction, which empowered his team to execute his vision.
  • Ron Johnson described Jobs as the best delegator he had ever met.

"Steve was the best delegator I ever met."

Ron Johnson's quote reflects the transformation in Steve Jobs' leadership style over time, highlighting his ability to delegate effectively.

Restlessness and Leadership

  • Jim Collins described an essential characteristic of great leaders as "deep restlessness."
  • This restlessness drives leaders to continuously seek improvement and innovation.
  • Brent Schlender applies this concept to Steve Jobs, noting his perpetual drive for betterment.

"Jim Collins has a wonderful phrase to describe an essential characteristic of great leaders, deep restlessness."

The quote from the author, referring to Jim Collins' phrase, relates to Steve Jobs' constant pursuit of progress and innovation.

Steve Jobs' Deep Restlessness

  • Deep restlessness is essential for resilience and self-motivation.
  • Fueled by curiosity, the urge to create something meaningful, and a sense of purpose.
  • Steve Jobs' restlessness was initially seen as impulsiveness.
  • Despite challenges, Jobs never gave up on his companies, Pixar and NeXT.
  • Jim Collins suggests that fighting through suffering can lead to personal growth.

"Steve's restlessness hadn't always been an advantage. When he was younger, his attention could flip from one project to another...but he never gave up. He didn't ever quit on Pixar or NeXT. The things he was trying to do, says Collins, were always hard. Sometimes those things beat him up. But the response to fighting through that suffering can be tremendous personal growth."

This quote emphasizes the transformation of Steve Jobs' restlessness from a potential liability to a driving force behind his perseverance and success. Jim Collins notes that the difficulty of Jobs' endeavors was a catalyst for personal growth.

The iPhone's Precedence Over the iPad

  • Steve Jobs and Johnny Ive had regular brainstorming walks.
  • Jobs decided to shelve the iPad project in favor of developing the iPhone.
  • Jobs believed he could convince people of the need for a better phone more easily than establishing a tablet as a valuable product category.

"Steve told Johnny Ive that he was beginning to think differently... 'I don't know that I can convince people that a tablet is a product category that has real value, but I know that I can convince people they need a better phone.'"

The quote illustrates Steve Jobs' strategic decision-making process and his ability to prioritize projects based on market readiness and consumer demand, which led to the development of the iPhone before the iPad.

Steve Jobs' Work and Personal Life Balance

  • Steve Jobs avoided travel and industry events to focus on Apple and family.
  • Tim Cook admired Jobs' ability to cut out the non-essential and prioritize.
  • Jobs' priorities were a part of his genius, especially after his cancer diagnosis.

"If you look closely at how he spent his time, says Tim Cook, you'll see that he hardly ever traveled, and he did none of the conferences and get-togethers that so many CEOs attend. He wanted to be home for dinner."

Tim Cook's quote highlights Steve Jobs' dedication to his work at Apple and his family life, showing his ability to maintain a balance and his commitment to what he deemed most important.

Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Speech

  • Jobs reflected on being fired from Apple as a blessing in disguise.
  • The experience allowed him to start afresh and enter a creative period.
  • He emphasized the importance of loving what you do for true satisfaction.

"The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again... It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life... I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did."

Steve Jobs' speech conveys the transformative power of setbacks and the importance of passion in one's work. It serves as a reminder to continually seek out and pursue work that one loves.

Steve Jobs' Interpersonal Growth

  • Ed Catmull observed Jobs' growth in handling critiques and mentoring.
  • Jobs learned to provide constructive feedback in private rather than public settings.
  • This change in approach fostered productivity and strengthened relationships.

"Sometimes, Catmull says, if it were big enough of a gut punch, he'd go for a walk with the director... He learned he had taken the mistakes that he had made, internalized and processed them, and made some changes."

Ed Catmull's observations reveal Steve Jobs' evolution in interpersonal skills, showing how he adapted his approach to feedback and mentorship to be more empathetic and effective.

The Disney-Pixar Deal

  • Steve Jobs negotiated the Disney-Pixar deal, ensuring the protection of Pixar's culture.
  • Bob Iger recognized the value of Pixar's creativity and people over conventional financial analysis.
  • The deal was strategic for Disney's revival in animation and broader success.

"Steve and Iger settled on a price of $7.4 billion... Iger agreed that his company would never change or cancel any of the 75 items on a list of Pixar cultural touchstones that Lasseter had drew up."

This quote details the final agreement between Steve Jobs and Bob Iger, highlighting the importance of preserving Pixar's unique culture within Disney and the strategic foresight in the acquisition.

Steve Jobs and Bob Iger's Relationship

  • Jobs' relationship with Bob Iger was built on trust and shared vision.
  • Iger's decision to bring Jobs into Disney as the largest shareholder was controversial but ultimately beneficial.
  • Bill Gates admired Jobs' negotiation skills, leading to Pixar owning a significant portion of Disney.

"I knew that there was some risk in letting him into the tent. On the other hand, I had a good relationship with him, and I felt I could benefit from having Steve Jobs around."

Bob Iger's quote reflects his calculated risk in involving Steve Jobs at a high level within Disney, trusting the value Jobs would bring despite external skepticism.

The Significance of Apple's Turnaround

  • Mark Andreessen highlighted the significance of Apple's transformation into a consumer-friendly supercomputing company.
  • The iPhone is compared to a supercomputer, representing a major technological breakthrough.

"That iPhone sitting in your pocket is the exact equivalent of a cray XMP supercomputer from 20 years ago that used to cost $10 million... That is the breakthrough Steve achieved."

Andreessen's quote underscores the monumental achievement of Apple under Steve Jobs, turning sophisticated computing technology into accessible consumer devices like the iPhone.

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