Notes from Make Something Wonderful
A collection of some quotes/notes I stumbled upon while reading the book Make Something Wonderful.
Make Something Wonderful is a recent release by the folks at Steve Jobs Archive. The book provides a unique look into how Steve Jobs tackled life and work during his time at Apple, NeXT, and Pixar. If you’re interested, you can read the full book online right here.
But for now, here are some of my personal favorite stories and insights from the book.
We make what we think of as the Rolls-Royce of personal computers.
We started a little personal-computer manufacturing company in a garage in Los Altos in 1976. Now we’re the largest personal-computer company in the world. We make what we think of as the Rolls-Royce of personal computers. It’s a domesticated computer. People expect blinking lights, but what they find is that it looks like a portable typewriter, which, connected to a suitable readout screen, is able to display in color.
There’s a feedback it gives to people, and the enthusiasm of the users is tremendous. We’re always asked what it can do, and it can do many things, but in my opinion the real thing it is doing right now is to teach people how to program the computer.
Computers and society are out on a first date.
One of the reasons I’m here is because I need your help. If you’ve looked at computers, they look like garbage. All the great product designers are off designing automobiles or buildings. But hardly any of them are designing computers. If we take a look, we’re going to sell 3 million computers this year, 10 million in ’86, whether they look like a piece of shit or they look great. People are just going to suck this stuff up so fast no matter what it looks like. And it doesn’t cost any more money to make them look great. They are going to be these new objects that are going to be in everyone’s working environment, everyone’s educational environment, and everyone’s home environment. We have a shot [at] putting a great object there—and if we don’t, we’re going to put one more piece-of-junk object there.
By ’86, ’87, pick a year, people are going to spend more time interacting with these machines than they do interacting with automobiles today. People are going to be spending two, three hours a day interacting with these machines—longer than they spend in the car. And so the industrial design, the software design, and how people interact with these things certainly must be given the consideration that we give automobiles today—if not a lot more.
And I think we have a chance with this new computing technology meeting people in the eighties—the fact that computers and society are out on a first date in the eighties. We have a chance to make these things beautiful, and we have a chance to communicate something through the design of the objects themselves.
When I was going to school, I had a few great teachers and a lot of mediocre teachers. And the thing that probably kept me out of jail was the books. I could go and read what Aristotle or Plato wrote without an intermediary in the way. And a book was a phenomenal thing. It got right from the source to the destination without anything in the middle.
The problem was, you can’t ask Aristotle a question. And I think, as we look towards the next fifty to one hundred years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit, or an underlying set of principles, or an underlying way of looking at the world, then, when the next Aristotle comes around, maybe if he carries around one of these machines with him his whole life—his or her whole life—and types in all this stuff, then maybe someday, after this person’s dead and gone, we can ask this machine, Hey, what would Aristotle have said? What about this? And maybe we won’t get the right answer, but maybe we will. And that’s really exciting to me. And that’s one of the reasons I’m doing what I’m doing.
People don’t want to program computers. People want to use computers.
Apple’s strategy is really simple. What we want to do is put an incredibly great computer in a book that you carry around with you, that you can learn how to use in twenty minutes. That’s what we want to do. And we want to do it this decade. And we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything—you’re in communication with all these larger databases and other computers. We don’t know how to do that now. It’s impossible technically
We’re trying to get away from programming. We’ve got to get away from programming because people don’t want to program computers. People want to use computers.
You can hook up to the source and, you know, do whatever you’re going to do. Meet women, I don’t know. But other than that, there’s no good reason to buy one for your house right now. But there will be. There will be.
You work for Apple first and your boss second
I don’t think finance is what drives people at Apple. I don’t think it’s money, but feeling like you own a piece of the company, and this is your damn company, and if you see something … We always tell people, You work for Apple first and your boss second. We feel pretty strongly about that.
Macintosh lets you sing
And that’s what Macintosh is all about. It’s the first telephone of our industry. But the neatest thing about it to me is, the same as the telephone to the telegraph, Macintosh lets you sing. It lets you use special fonts. It lets you make drawings and pictures or incorporate other people’s drawings or pictures into your documents.
When you make things smaller, you have the ability to make them more precisely
I want to build products that are inherently smaller than any of the products on the market today. And when you make things smaller, you have the ability to make them more precisely. Obviously, a perfect example of that is a watch. It’s beautiful, but the precision has to be the scale of the object itself, and so you make it very precise. And as our products get smaller, we have the opportunity to do that. So, obviously, I would like everything to be smaller.
I also think that it’s really nice to be able to carry products around. Even if they’re not portable, it’s very nice to be able to have a handle on them that says, Pick me up and move me when you want to change where I am. Carry them from room to room, or from office to office. Lisa’s too heavy to carry from office to office, or room to room, or home on the weekends. So the question is, How do we find a way to package that same functionality into something that we can carry around with us and that is smaller, obviously—and be able to express the form of that more precisely? That’s where we’re going in the future, those directions.
I just get to be really stubborn about making things as good as we all know they can be
I don’t think my taste in aesthetics is that much different than a lot of other people’s. The difference is that I just get to be really stubborn about making things as good as we all know they can be. That’s the only difference.
Things get more refined as you make mistakes. I’ve had a chance to make a lot of mistakes. Your aesthetics get better as you make mistakes. But the real big thing is: if you’re going to make something, it doesn’t take any more energy—and rarely does it take more money—to make it really great. All it takes is a little more time. Not that much more. And a willingness to do so, a willingness to persevere until it’s really great.
Man, I want to build things.
I want to build things. I’m thirty. I’m not ready to be an industry pundit. I got three offers to be a professor during this summer, and I told all of the universities that I thought I would be an awful professor. What I’m best at doing is finding a group of talented people and making things with them. I respect the direction that Apple is going in. But for me personally, you know, I want to make things. And if there’s no place for me to make things there, then I’ll do what I did twice before. I’ll make my own place. You know, I did it in the garage when Apple started, and I did it in the metaphorical garage when Mac started
Though the outside world looks at success from a numerical point of view, my yardstick might be quite different than that. My yardstick may be how every computer that’s designed from here on out will have to be at least as good as a Macintosh.
I think a tremendous amount of goods and services is going to be sold, or at least the demand created for such things, over the web.
I think most large companies and medium-size companies (and even small companies) are starting to look at the web as the ultimate direct-to-customer distribution chain, bypassing all middlemen, going directly from the supplier to the consumer. That’s a pretty powerful concept when you think about it. One of the things that I love is that a very small company, if they invest a lot in their website, can look just as formidable and just as solid on the web as a very large company can. As a matter of fact, some of the smaller companies are more hip on the web, getting more hip to the web sooner, and so they actually look better than some of the large companies do right now. It’s going to be this very leveling phenomenon, but I think a tremendous amount of goods and services is going to be sold, or at least the demand created for such things, over the web.
There’s a lot of things happening with the web right now, in terms of allowing people access to information that they would just never have before. What this does is, of course, it lets special-interest groups get together. I know people who have had, as an example, a stroke, and have gotten on the web and found that there are several web pages now devoted to information for stroke victims where they can learn about some of the latest treatments. They can learn about avoidance, the latest in avoidance advice, and things like that. Those things didn’t exist before, as well.
Think of your life as a rainbow arcing across the horizon of this world. You appear, have a chance to blaze in the sky, then you disappear.
What you follow with your heart will indeed come back to make your life much richer.
But one has no way of knowing which of these paths will lead anywhere in advance. That’s the wonderful thing about it, in a way. The only thing one can do is to believe that some of what you follow with your heart will indeed come back to make your life much richer. And it will. And you will gain an ever firmer trust in your instincts and intuition.
Don’t be a career. The enemy of most dreams and intuitions, and one of the most dangerous and stifling concepts ever invented by humans, is the Career. A career is a concept for how one is supposed to progress through stages during the training for and practicing of your working life.
Think of your life as a rainbow arcing across the horizon of this world. You appear, have a chance to blaze in the sky, then you disappear.
Regrets are most often things you didn’t do, and wish you did. I still regret not kissing Nancy Kinniman in high school. Who knows what might have happened? Maybe she regrets it too …
We don’t take anybody for granted
Every single day we worry about how we can make Pixar a better company so that nobody will ever want to leave, and so we don’t take anybody for granted. Because if they don’t want to be at Pixar, then probably they should leave anyway—whether or not they would ever have a contract.
There are no shortcuts around quality, and quality starts with people.
You’d better have great people, or you won’t get your product to market as fast as possible. Or you might get a product to market really fast, but it will be really clunky and nobody will buy it. There are no shortcuts around quality, and quality starts with people. Maybe shortcuts exist, but I’m not smart enough to have ever found any. I spend 20 percent of my time recruiting, even now. I spend a day a week helping people recruit. It’s one of the most important things you can do.
The worst thing that someone can do in an interview is to agree with me
Ultimately there are two paths. If a candidate has been in the workplace for a while, you have to look at the results. There are people who look so good on paper and talk such a good story but have no results behind them. They can’t point to breakthroughs or successful products that they shipped and played an integral part in. Ultimately the results should lead you to the people. As a matter of fact, that’s how I find great people. I look at great results and I find out who was responsible for them. However, sometimes young people haven’t had the opportunity yet to be in a position of influence to create such results. So here you must evaluate potential. It’s certainly more difficult, but the primary attributes of potential are intelligence and the ability to learn quickly. Much of it is also drive and passion—hard work makes up for a lot.
Many times in an interview I will purposely upset someone: I’ll criticize their prior work. I’ll do my homework, find out what they worked on and say, God, that really turned out to be a bomb. That really turned out to be a bozo product. Why did you work on that? I shouldn’t say this in your book, but the worst thing that someone can do in an interview is to agree with me and knuckle under.
What I look for is for someone to come right back and say, You’re dead wrong and here’s why. I want to see what people are like under pressure. I want to see if they just fold or if they have firm conviction, belief, and pride in what they did. It’s also good every once in a while to really piss somebody off in an interview to see how they react because, if your company is a meritocracy of ideas, with passionate people, you have a company with a lot of arguments. If people can’t stand up and argue well under pressure, they may not do well in such an environment.
Life is short; don’t waste it. Tell the truth. Technology should enhance human creativity. Process matters. Beauty matters. Details matter. The world we know is a human creation—and we can push it forward.
As CEO of Apple and Pixar (he held both roles until Disney acquired Pixar in 2006), he saw his job as number one, recruit; number two, set an overall direction; and number three, inspire and cajole and persuade. He said, You’re not grabbing the pencil out of the twenty-five-year-old’s hand to do it better than they are. If you’re smart, you’re hiring twenty-five-year-olds who are smarter than you. He gave particular thought to his responsibility for the business aspects of a creative company. A risk-taking creative environment on the product side, he said, required a fiscally conservative environment on the business side. Creative people are willing to take a leap in the air, but they need to know that the ground’s going to be there when they get back.
Steve saw every product and film as a way of expressing to the rest of our species our deep appreciation. Apple technology offered tools to make something wonderful. And Pixar films, he believed, had the rare opportunity to put stories into the culture, stories that would speak to our grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids.
It is always a team of people, and the chemistry between that team of people, that makes great results, Steve once said. Under his leadership, the teams at Apple and Pixar transformed four very different industries: computing, telecommunications, music, and film. The engine driving these transformations was a remarkably consistent set of values that Steve held dear: Life is short; don’t waste it. Tell the truth. Technology should enhance human creativity. Process matters. Beauty matters. Details matter. The world we know is a human creation—and we can push it forward.
We will let the customer tell us what they want, and we will respond to it super fast.
We’re having to make guesses four or five, six months in advance, about what the customer wants. We’re not smart enough to do that. I don’t think Einstein’s smart enough to do that. So what we’re going to do is get really simple and start taking inventory out of those pipelines so we can let the customer tell us what they want, and we can respond to it super fast. You’re going to see us be doing a lot of things like that. Today is just the first of many things we’re going to be doing with you.
Marketing is about values
We started working about eight weeks ago. The question we asked was, Our customers want to know: Who is Apple, and what is it that we stand for? Where do we fit in this world? And what we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody, in some cases. But Apple is about something more than that. Apple, at the core—its core value—is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe.
But the best example of all, and one of the greatest jobs of marketing that the universe has ever seen, is Nike. Remember: Nike sells a commodity! They sell shoes! And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don’t ever talk about the products. They don’t ever tell you about their air soles, and why they are better than Reebok’s air soles. What does Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes, and they honor great athletics. That’s who they are. That’s what they are about.
And we believe that in this world, people can change it for the better. And that those people that are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones that actually do.
Apple’s reason for being
Apple is the premier company in the world at making the exploding world of high technology easy to learn and use, thereby enabling mere mortals to enrich their lives using it.
Demystified technology, it will have a much greater impact than any other thing we can do. The stores need to be thought of as a mecca for understanding technology and making all of the digits a part of your life. All things digital, digital music, digital photography, people who’ve migrated to broadband, people/families who want to build a home network
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
I think I got lucky and had the chutzpah to call these guys up.
I called up him and Andy and a few other people, Jerry Sanders [the founder of microchip company AMD]. I just called them up and I said, Look, I’m young and I’m trying to run with this company. I’m just wondering if I could buy you lunch once a quarter and pick your brain.
I think I got lucky and had the chutzpah to call these guys up. However, there are other people who have chutzpah to call people up too. The Google guys called me up, so I had lunch with them. And so I think it still happens a little. I don’t think it ever happened a lot, and I don’t think it happens a lot now. But I think it still happens—it happened a little, and it still happens a little. Maybe most people aren’t interested. They have their own things to worry about.
You can’t plan to meet the people who will change your life.
You can’t plan to meet the people who will change your life. It just happens. Maybe its random, maybe its fate. Either way, you can’t plan for it. But you want to recognize it when it happens, and have the courage and clarity of mind to grab onto it.
We’re only as good as our next picture.
Stocks go up and down, and things may be different tomorrow, but I thought it was worth a moment of reflection today. And so it is again.
Walt Disney used to say to his team: We’re only as good as our next picture. Well, we’re only as good as our next amazing new product.
Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact—and that is: everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.
And you can change it.
You can influence it.
You can build your own things that other people can use.
And the minute you can understand that you can poke life, and if you push in, then something will pop out the other side; that you can change it, you can mold it—that’s maybe the most important thing: to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there, and you’re just going to live in it versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that’s very important, and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better. Because it’s kind of messed up in a lot of ways.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.