Excerpts from Steve Jobs

I started reading biographies a few years ago with Peter the Great: A Biography. My motivation to plow through 700+ page tomes was primairly fuelled by a love for history. When I finished that book it occurred to me that the Tsar’s life was more than a history lesson, it was a lesson on living as a man. It contained tidbits of wisdom that I looked back at with fondness and when searching for answers to life’s questions.

With every biography that followed, I would write down excerpts that I could then use in my day to day. They were quotes of inspiration, anecdotes, sayings and lessons on life.

Today, I’d like to share some of my favorite excerpts from the Steve Jobs biography by Sir Walter Isaacson.

It was Sunday, June 29, 1975, a milestone for the personal computer.

This is where it all began; this was Wozniak’s Apple 1 and this was the first time in history that a anyone had typed a character on a keyboard and seen it show up on their own computer’s screen right in front of them.

The Apple I would go on sale a year later, on April 11th, 1976 and make Apple the company it is today.

So Calhoun hitchhiked to Iran to teach English in Tehran. Brennan stayed in India, and when Calhoun’s teaching stint was over they hitchhiked to meet each other in the middle, in Afghanistan. the world was a very different place back then.

Women’s rights is a subject dear to my heart. The excerpt above is a reminder of how much women’s rights have receded in Afghanistan, and other muslim countries.

As an example, the photo below was taken in the ’70. This was before the war with Russia and the rise of the Taliban.

There falls a shadow, as T. S. Eliot noted, between the conception and the creation. In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important.

A constant reminder that greatness comes as much from execution as from a great idea. As Thomas Edison once said: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” All great inventions — the lightbulb, plastic, the Xerox machine — took years to build and perfect.

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,” the 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.”

As a technical team lead for a software company, hiring and firing is not uncommon. I think of this quote whenever a new candidate is applying for a position on my team and I have to make the call of whether to hire them.

You know, Larry, I think I’ve found a away for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it,” Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, “He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO.” Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. “But Steve, there’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said. “If we don’t buy the company, how can we make any money?” It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison’s left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, “Larry, this is why it’s really important that I’m your friend. You don’t need any more money.”

The excerpt above is both a pivotal moment in the history of Apple and an example of how Jobs’ drive was aimed at building quality products. Despite his reputation as a strong negotiator, his was not a desire for riches. Jobs was a visionary and in Apple he saw an opportunity to create something great. Something other than wealth.

I (Steve Jobs) called up Bill [Gates] and said, “I’m going to turn this thing around.” Bill always had a soft spot for Apple. We got him into the application software business. The first Microsoft apps were Excel and Word for the Mac. So I called him and said, “I need help.” Microsoft was walking over Apple’s patents. I said, “If we kept up our lawsuits, a few years from now we could win a billion-dollar patent suit. You know it, and I know it. But Apple’s not going to survive that long if we’re at war. I know that. So let’s figure out how to settle this right away. All I need is a commitment that Microsoft will keep developing for the Mac, and an investment by Microsoft in Apple so it has a stake in our success.”

Here is an example of Jobs’ negotiation style. It was the late ’90s and Microsoft allegedly infringed on Apple’s patents when it created Windows almost 10 years prior. A patent lawsuit was brewing. Jobs had just returned to Apple and he was looking at making the Apple brand great once again. He reached out to Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, and negotiate an agreement that would have Microsoft continue building software for the Mac, despite their interest in propping up their own operating system, Windows.

The relationship between the two men stretched several decades and Gates would be amongst the last visitors to see Jobs alive.

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.

The famous ad narrated by Steve Jobs that started the second coming of Apple after Jobs rejoined the company.

Jobs could not settle on a voice for the narration and decided last minute to narrate the famous ad himself. It was only appropriate, after all. He was the crazy one, the misfit, the rebel, the troublemaker he describes.

“Instead Sony joined with Universal to create a subscription service called Pressplay. Meanwhile, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, and EMI teamed up with RealNetworks to create MusicNet. Neither would license its songs to the rival service, so each offered only about half the music available. Both were subscription services that allowed customers to stream songs but not keep them, so you lost access to them if your subscription lapsed. They had complicated restrictions and clunky interfaces. Indeed they would earn the dubious distinction of becoming number nine on PC World’s list of “the 25 worst tech products of all time.” The magazine declared, “The services’ stunningly brain-dead features showed that the record companies still didn’t get it.”

An incredible history lesson from before the iPhone, when services like Spotify existed but commanded very little interest from their target market. It goes to show how much has changed since the introduction of the iPhone and 4G connectivity. Today, Apple offers its own streaming service called Apple Music, and services like Spotify have replaced more traditional music business models.

“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.”

A demonstration for Jobs need for control and a testament to the power of focus.

“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.”

A great excerpt for companies so stuck in their ways, that they become incapable of innovation.

“In February 2006 the store sold its one billionth song when Alex Ostrovsky, sixteen, of West Bloomfield, Michigan, bought Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” and got a congratulatory call from Jobs, bestowing upon him ten iPods, an iMac, and a $10,000 music gift certificate.”

An astounding achievement by a product not yet 3 years old.

“Even though his options were underwater at the time, the technical method of valuing them when granted (known as a Black-Scholes valuation) set their worth at $872 million. Fortune proclaimed it “by far” the largest compensation package ever granted a CEO. It was the worst of all worlds: Jobs had almost no money that he could put in his pocket for his four years of hard and successful turnaround work at Apple, yet he had become the poster child of greedy CEOs, making him look hypocritical and undermining his self-image. He wrote a scathing letter to the editor, declaring that his options actually “are worth zero” and offering to sell them to Fortune for half of the supposed $872 million the magazine had reported.

The irony and complexity of the CEO compensation package. It’s not all cash and bonuses on top.

“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.”

A great lesson for aspiring speakers and a nod to a great speech now available online given by Jobs to graduating students.

“Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert, was also incredulous, but far more admiring. He wrote a blog entry a few days later (which Jobs proudly emailed around) that marveled at how Jobs’s “high ground maneuver” was destined to be studied as a new public relations standard. “Apple’s response to the iPhone 4 problem didn’t follow the public relations playbook, because Jobs decided to rewrite the playbook,” Adams wrote. “If you want to know what genius looks like, study Jobs’ words.”

Adams wrote this quote after the iPhone 4 was shown to suffer from “antenna-gate”: the sideeffect of placing ones hands on the slender antenna of an iPhone 4 in such a way as to cut off the signal, and the call. When news came out of the problem, Jobs addressed the media saying that “We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We know that. But we want to make our users happy.” This speech, and his actions afterward, was a ramarkable example of how to deal with product disgruntled customers. In effect, Jobs changed the conversation and called the bluff. Not only did the iPhone 4 have low return numbers, it became the highest selling iPhone to date.

“Nothing kills humor like a general and boring truth.”

Particularly appropriate when listening to a comedian like Sinefeld go on about peanuts and horsepower.

“Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands,” he said. “But now it’s being dismembered and destroyed. It’s tragic. I hope I’ve left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple.”

Something I contemplate today as we witness the company Jobs left behind in the hands of faithful Cook. Will he follow the legacy left by his colleague and friend?

“I’ve had a very lucky career, a very lucky life,” he replied. “I’ve done all that I can do.”

A reminder to all of us that life is a journey we seldom control. Instead, it’s a series of events which we navigate with tools we had no hand in picking. Some are fortunate both in ability and timing, while others only get a sliver of time in which to enjoy life.

I believe there are too few good male role models and I’m happy to say the Steve Jobs’ biography left a positive and lasting impression. Although the subject was not without his fault, Jobs was a man of conviction, and if there is one sentiment most people share on their last days, it is wishing they were truer to who they were.

Highly recommended.