Steve Jobs interview: One-on-one in 1995

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But you do need a person. You need a person. Especially with computers the way they are now. Computers are very reactive but they're not proactive; they are not agents, if you will. They are very reactive. What children need is something more proactive. They need a guide. They don't need an assistant. I think we have all the material in the world to solve this problem; it's just being deployed in other places. I've been a very strong believer in that what we need to do in education is to go to the full voucher system. I know this isn't what the interview was supposed to be about but it is what I care about a great deal. . . .

The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need and a lot of competition which forces them to get better and better.

I used to think when I was in my twenties that technology was the solution to most of the world's problems, but unfortunately it just ain't so. I'll give you an analogy. Alot of times we think "Why is the television programming so bad? Why are television shows so demeaning, so poor?"

The first thought that occurs to you is "Well, there is a conspiracy: the networks are feeding us this slop because its cheap to produce. It's the networks that are controlling this and they are feeding us this stuff."

But the truth of the matter, if you study it in any depth, is that networks absolutely want to give people what they want so that will watch the shows. If people wanted something different, they would get it. And the truth of the matter is that the shows that are on television, are on television because that's what people want. The majority of people in this country want to turn on a television and turn off their brain and that's what they get. And that's far more depressing than a conspiracy.

Conspiracies are much more fun than the truth of the matter, which is that the vast majority of the public are pretty mindless most of the time. I think the school situation has a parallel here when it comes to technology. It is so much more hopeful to think that technology can solve the problems that are more human and more organizational and more political in nature, and it ain't so. We need to attack these things at the root, which is people and how much freedom we give people, the competition that will attract the best people.

Unfortunately, there are side effects, like pushing out a lot of 46 year old teachers who lost their spirit fifteen years ago and shouldn't be teaching anymore. I feel very strongly about this. I wish it was as simple as giving it over to the computer.

I'm really glad we had a chance to talk about it. To talk about other things, so much has been written about you rather than go over a lot of those stories I was going to ask which one you think is the best and the fairest and if there are aspects of your career that you think have been left out. I have to tell you truly that I'm pretty ignorant about it because I haven't read any of them. I skimmed one one time and read the first ten pages and they got my birthday wrong by a year. If they can't even get this right then this is probably not worth reading. I don't even remember the name of the one I skimmed.

I always considered part of my job was to keep the quality level of people in the organizations I work with very high. That's what I consider one of the few things I actually can contribute individually -- to to really try to instill in the organization the goal of only having 'A' players. Because in this field, like in a lot of fields, the difference between the worst taxi cab driver and the best taxi cab driver to get you crosstown Manhattan might be two to one. The best one will get you there in fifteen minutes, the worst one will get you there in a half an hour. Or the best cook and the worst cook, maybe it's three to one. Pick something like that.

In the field that I'm in the difference between the best person and the worst person is about a hundred to one or more. The difference between a good software person and a great software person is fifty to one, twenty-five to fifty to one, huge dynamic range. Therefore, I have found, not just in software, but in everything I've done it really pays to go after the best people in the world.

It's painful when you have some people who are not the best people in the world and you have to get rid of them; but I found that my job has sometimes exactly been that: to get rid of some people who didn't measure up. And I've always tried to do it in a humane way. But nonetheless it has to be done and it is never fun.

Is that the hardest and the most painful part of managing a company from your point of view? Oh sure. Of course. At times I've been pretty hard about it and a lot of times people haven't wanted to leave and I haven't given them any choices.

If somebody wanted to write a book about me, most of my friends would never talk to them but they could go find the handful of a few dozen people that I fired in my life who hate my guts. It was certainly the case in the one book I skimmed. I mean it was just "let's throw the darts at Steve." Such is life. That's the world I've chosen to live in. If I didn't like that part of it enough, I'd escape and I haven't, so I'm willing to put up with that. But I certainly didn't find it very accurate.

Apple

I've got a couple of questions I'd like to ask you about specifically about your experience at Apple. Looking back at the years you were there, what were the accomplishments you are most proud of? Are there a couple of Apple stories you really like to tell? Apple was this incredible journey. I mean we did some amazing things there. The thing that bound us together at Apple was the ability to make things that were going to change the world. That was very important.

We were all pretty young. The average age in the company was mid to late twenties. Hardly anybody had families at the beginning and we all worked like maniacs, and the greatest joy was that we felt we were fashioning collective works of art much like twentieth century physics. Something important that would last, that people contributed to and then could give to more people; the amplification factor was very large.

In doing the Macintosh, for example, there was a core group of less than a hundred people, and yet Apple shipped over ten million of them. Of course everybody's copied it and it's hundreds of millions now. That's pretty large amplification, a million to one. It's not often in your life that you get that opportunity to amplify your values a hundred to one, let alone a million to one. That's really what we were doing.

If you look at what we tried to do, it was to say "Computation and how it relates to people is really in its infancy here. We are in the right place at the right time to change the course of that vector a little bit." What's interesting is that if you change the course of a vector near its origin, by time it gets a few miles out its course is radically different. We were very cognizant of this fact. From almost the beginning at Apple we were, for some incredibly lucky reason, fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. The contributions we tried to make embodied values not only of technical excellence and innovation -- which I think we did our share of -- but innovation of a more humanistic kind.

The things I'm most proud about at Apple is where the technical and the humanistic came together, as it did in publishing for example. The Macintosh basically revolutionized publishing and printing. The typographic artistry coupled with the technical understanding and excellence to implement that electronically -- those two things came together and empowered people to use the computer without having to understand arcane computer commands. It was the combination of those two things that I'm the most proud of. It happened on the Apple II and it happened on the Lisa, although there were other problems with the Lisa that caused it to be a market failure; and then it happened again big time on the Macintosh.

You used an interesting word in describing what you were doing. You were talking about art not engineering, not science. Tell me about that. I think there's actually very little distinction between an artist and a scientist or engineer of the highest calibre. I've never had a distinction in my mind between those two types of people. They've just been to me people who pursue different paths but basically kind of headed to the same goal which is to express something of what they perceive to be the truth around them so that others can benefit by it.

And the artistry is in the elegance of the solution, like chess playing or mathematics? No. I think the artistry is in having an insight into what one sees around them. Generally putting things together in a way no one else has before and finding a way to express that to other people who don't have that insight so they can get some of the advantage of that insight that makes them feel a certain way or allows them to do a certain thing. I think that a lot of the folks on the Macintosh team were capable of doing that and did exactly that.

If you study these people a little bit more what you'll find is that in this particular time, in the 70's and the 80's the best people in computers would have normally been poets and writers and musicians. Almost all of them were musicians. A lot of them were poets on the side. They went into computers because it was so compelling. It was fresh and new. It was a new medium of expression for their creative talents. The feelings and the passion that people put into it were completely indistinguishable from a poet or a painter. Many of the people were introspective, inward people who expressed how they felt about other people or the rest of humanity in general into their work, work that other people would use. People put a lot of love into these products, and a lot of expression of their appreciation came to these things. It's hard to explain.

It's passion in the truest sense of the word. The computer industry is at a very critical juncture where those people are clearly leaving the field.

What are they doing? Hard to say. They're not being attracted by something else. They're being driven out of the computer business. They're being driven out because the computer business is becoming a monopoly with Microsoft. Without getting into whether Microsoft gained its position legally or not -- who cares? The end product of the position is that the ability to innovate in the industry is being sucked dry. I think the smartest people have already seen the writing on the wall. I think some of the smartest young people are questioning whether they'll really get in it.

Hopefully things will change. It's kind of a dark period right now or about to enter.

Apple's growth

Apple had a reputation as a company that absolutely broke the mold and set its own course. Looking back from where you are today with NeXT, do you think that, as Apple grew larger, it could have sustained that original approach? Or was it destined to become a big standard American company? That's a funny question. Apple did grow big and sustain that approach.

When I left Apple it was a two billion dollar company. We were Fortune 300 and something. We were 350. When the Mac was introduced we were a billion-dollar corporation; so Apple grew from nothing to two billion dollars while I was there. That's a pretty high growth rate. It grew five times since I left basically on the back of the Macintosh.

I think what's happened since I left in terms of growth rate has been trivial compared with what it was like when I was there. What ruined Apple wasn't growth. What ruined Apple was values. John Sculley ruined Apple and he ruined it by bringing a set of values to the top of Apple which were corrupt and corrupted some of the top people who were there, drove out some of the ones who were not corruptible, and brought in more corrupt ones and paid themselves collectively tens of millions of dollars and cared more about their own glory and wealth than they did about what built Apple in the first place -- which was making great computers for people to use.

They didn't care about that anymore. They didn't have a clue about how to do it and they didn't take any time to find out because that's not what they cared about. They cared about making a lot of money. So they had this wonderful thing that a lot of brilliant people made called the Macintosh and they got very greedy. And instead of following the original trajectory of the original vision -- which was to make this thing an appliance, to get this out there to as many people as possible -- they went for profits and they made outlandish profits for about four years. Apple was one of the most profitable companies in America for about four years.

What that cost them was the future. What they should have been doing was making reasonable profits and going for market share, which was what we always tried to do.

Macintosh would have had a 33% market share right now, maybe even higher, maybe it would have even been Microsoft, but we'll never know. Now it's got a single-digit market share and falling. There's no way to ever get that moment in time back. The Macintosh will die in another few years and it's really sad.

The problem is this: No one at Apple has a clue as to how to create the next Macintosh because no one running any part of Apple was there when the Macintosh was made -- or any other product at Apple. They've just been living off that one thing now for over a decade and the last attempt was the Newton and you know what happened to that.

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