Quotations from Chairman Steve

A mosaic of Apple leader Steve Jobs' on-the-record opinions and musings

Apple's former CEO, and now chairman, Steve Jobs does not think in sound bites. Reading through the wealth of interviews in his career, one is conscious of a mind working through both questions and answers, and taking little for granted.

Herewith, a collection of the on-the-record ruminations of now Chairman Steve on Apple's core talents, being fired, the new CEO, music, optimism, technology, death and more. (Links to the sources are at the end.)

Steve Jobs in pictures

On Apple's core talents and future products

Apple has a core set of talents, and those talents are: We do, I think, very good hardware design; we do very good industrial design; and we write very good system and application software. And we're really good at packaging that all together into a product. We're the only people left in the computer industry that do that. And we're really the only people in the consumer-electronics industry that go deep in software in consumer products. So those talents can be used to make personal computers, and they can also be used to make things like iPods. And we're doing both, and we'll find out what the future holds. -- Rolling Stone, 2003

On Tim Cook, now Apple's CEO per Jobs' recommendation

Not everyone knows it, but three months after I came back to Apple, my chief operating guy quit. I couldn't find anyone internally or elsewhere that knew as much as he did, or as I did. So I did that job for nine months before I found someone I saw eye-to-eye with, and that was Tim Cook. And he has been here ever since. -- Businessweek, 2004

BACKGROUND: Steve Jobs: "I hereby resign as CEO of Apple"

On being a Silicon Valley celebrity

I think of it as my well-known twin brother. It's not me. Because otherwise, you go crazy. You read some negative article some idiot writes about you -- you just can't take it too personally. But then that teaches you not to take the really great ones too personally either. People like symbols, and they write about symbols. -- Rolling Stone, 1994

On "design"

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn't what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that. -- Wired, February 1996

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On buying washers and dryers

We spent some time in our family talking about what's the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We'd get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.

We ended up opting for these Miele appliances, made in Germany. ... These guys really thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years. -- Wired, February 1996

On copyright and patents

If copyright dies, if patents die, if the protection of intellectual property is eroded, then people will stop investing. That hurts everyone. People need to have the incentive that if they invest and succeed, they can make a fair profit. Otherwise they'll stop investing. -- Rolling Stone, 2003

On television as the "most corrosive technology I've every seen"

Because the average American watches five hours a day of television, and television is a passive medium. Television doesn't turn your brain on. Or, television can be used to turn your brain off, and that's what it's mostly used for. And that's a wonderful thing sometimes -- but not for five hours a day. -- Rolling Stone, 2003

On music

I think we're all happier when we have a little more music in our lives. ... We were very lucky -- we grew up in a generation where music was an incredibly intimate part of that generation. More intimate than it had been, and maybe more intimate than it is today, because today there's a lot of other alternatives. We didn't have video games to play. We didn't have personal computers. There's so many other things competing for kids' time now. But, nonetheless, music is really being reinvented in this digital age, and that is bringing it back into people's lives. It's a wonderful thing. -- Rolling Stone, 2003

On how the Web will "affect the way we live in the future"

I don't think of the world that way. I'm a tool builder. That's how I think of myself. I want to build really good tools that I know in my gut and my heart will be valuable. And then whatever happens is ... you can't really predict exactly what will happen, but you can feel the direction that we're going. And that's about as close as you can get. Then you just stand back and get out of the way, and these things take on a life of their own. -- Rolling Stone, 1994

On the next great thing

If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth -- and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago. -- Fortune, Feb. 19, 1996, via Wired: "Steve Jobs' Best Quotes Ever," March 2006

On whether innovation can be "systematized"

The system is that there is no system. That doesn't mean we don't have process. Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that's not what it's about. Process makes you more efficient.

But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem. It's ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much. -- Businessweek, October 2004

On his involvement with Apple's innovations

We go back and forth a lot as we work on our projects. And we've got such great people [in the top executive team] that I've been able to move about half of the day-to-day management of the company to them, so I can spend half my time on the new stuff, like the retail [store] effort. I spent and continue to spend a lot of time on that. And I meet weekly for two or three hours with my OS X team. And there's the group doing our iLife applications.

So I get to spend my time on the forward-looking stuff. My top executives take half the other work off my plate. They love it, and I love it. -- Businessweek, October 2004

On the nature of the Web

The best way to think of the Web is as a direct-to-customer distribution channel, whether it's for information or commerce. It bypasses all middlemen. And, it turns out, there are a lot of middlepersons in this society. And they generally tend to slow things down, muck things up, and make things more expensive. The elimination of them is going to be profound. -- Wired, 1996

On optimism

I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what's happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don't seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids. -- Wired, 1996

On technology and its prospects for changing the world

The problem is I'm older now, I'm 40 years old, and this stuff doesn't change the world. It really doesn't. ... Having children really changes your view on these things. We're born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It's been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much -- if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. ... I'm not downplaying that. But it's a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light -- that it's going to change everything. Things don't have to change the world to be important. -- Wired, 1996

On being fired from Apple

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. -- Commencement address, Stanford University, 2005

On death

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

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. -- Commencement address, Stanford University, 2005

Sources:

Rolling Stone, June 16, 1994

Wired, February 1996

Rolling Stone, December 3, 2003

Wired: "Steve Jobs' Best Quotes Ever," March 2006

Commencement address, Stanford University, June 12, 2005

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

Email: john_cox@nww.com

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