Insights from Becoming Steve Jobs

Lessons on innovation that I gleaned from a biography.

Steve Jobs sitting on a motorcycle with Steve Wozniak standing beside
Steve Jobs with his 1966 BMW R60/2 and Steve Wozniak in the early 80s. Photo source: Ted Thai/Polaris

Until recently, I didn't know a lot about Steve Jobs. I hadn't watched his keynotes or his Stanford commencement speech. Conventional characterizations of him as a ruthless boss struck me as one-dimensional. I didn't know much about Jobs beyond the headlines and I wanted to correct that.

I found two biographies of Jobs – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. While the former book is the official biography of Jobs, the latter is endorsed by Jobs' inner circle – his widow, Laurene Powell, and Apple CEO, Tim Cook.

One of the authors of 'Becoming Steve Jobs' reported on Jobs for almost 30 years. Because of that he had first hand accounts and interviews with people close to Jobs. I felt this book might be a good one to start with.

The book contains a wealth of anecdotes and paints a complete picture of his career arc. This book is required reading if you want to learn what goes into creating great products, or marketing so the audience lusts for your product, or managing people to bring out the best work of their lives.

To summarize insights, I've collected extracts from the book and divided them into 8 sections. The sections are not in sequence, they can be read in any order.

 Table of Contents

1. His Childhood

When I was about five or six, he sectioned off a little piece of it and said ‘Steve, this is your workbench now.’ And he gave me some of his smaller tools and showed me how to use a hammer and saw and how to build things. It really was very good for me. He spent a lot of time with me … teaching me how to build things, how to take things apart, put things back together. - Steve Jobs about his dad.

In his later years, as Steve would show me a new iPod or a new laptop, he would remember how his father told him that you had to devote as much care to the underside of a cabinet as to the finish, or to the brake pads of a Chevy Impala as to the paint job. Steve had a deeply sentimental streak, and it came out when he told these stories about his father. They were made more poignant by the fact that Steve gave his father so much credit for instilling his own sense of aesthetic excellence in a medium — digital electronics — that Paul Jobs would never fully understand.

For precocious kids like Steve, the implicit promise in all this was that anything could be figured out — and since anything could be figured out, anything could be built.“ It gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe, ”he once told me.“ These things were not mysteries anymore. You looked at a television set and you would think that, ‘I haven’t built one of those but I could. There’s one of those in the Heathkit catalog and I’ve built two other Heathkits, so I could build that.’ Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation, not these magical things that just appeared in one’s environment and that one had no knowledge of their interiors.

He joined the Explorers Club, a group of fifteen kids who met regularly on Hewlett - Packard’s campus in Palo Alto to work on electronics projects and get lessons from HP engineers. This is where Steve was first exposed to computers. It’s also what gave him the outlandish notion to reach out and establish a minor, but fascinating, connection with one of the two men who famously created HP, the first Silicon Valley dynamo out of a garage. When he was fourteen years old, he called up Bill Hewlett at his Palo Alto home to ask personally for some hard - to - find electronic components for an Explorers Club project. He got them, in part, because he already could spin a good tale.

Steve innately understood from an early age that the right words and stories could help him win the attention he needed to get what he wanted.

Glib and persuasive with his parents, he applied the same skills when dealing with friends, teachers, mentors, and eventually the rich and powerful ; Steve innately understood from an early age that the right words and stories could help him win the attention he needed to get what he wanted.

2. The Young Man

Despite his evasiveness and his determination to hew to a single message, Jobs was a vivid presence. The intensity of his self-confidence made me hang on his every word. He spoke in carefully constructed sentences, even when trying to answer an unexpected question.

Steve ostensibly went to India hoping to meet Neem Karoli Baba, known as Maharaj-ji, the famous guru who was an inspiration to Brilliant, Friedman, and other seekers. But Maharaj-ji died shortly before Steve’s arrival, to his lasting disappointment. Steve’s time in India was splintered, as unfocused as the searches of many young people seeking a broader vision than the one they were handed as children. He went to a religious festival attended by ten million other pilgrims. He wore flowing cotton robes, ate strange foods, and had his head shaved by a mysterious guru. He got dysentery. For the first time he read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, a book that he would return to several times throughout his life, and that would be given to everyone who attended the reception following Steve’s memorial service at Stanford University’s Memorial Church on October 16, 2011.

“Steve had been flirting with the idea of being sadhu. ”Most Indian sadhus live a monklike existence of deprivation as a way of focusing solely on the spiritual. But Steve was obviously too hungry, too driven, and too ambitious for that kind of life. “It was a romance, ”says Brilliant, “with the idea of being a renunciate.”But that doesn’t mean he came back to the United States disillusioned, or that he dismissed Eastern spiritualism altogether. His interests migrated toward Buddhism, which allows for more engagement with the world than is permitted ascetic Hindus. It would enable him to blend a search for personal enlightenment with his ambition to create a company that delivered world-changing products.

He reread Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind several times, and made the intersection of elements of Asian spiritualism and his business and commercial life a regular subject of the conversations.

For years, he arranged for a Buddhist monk by the name of Kobun Chino Otogawa to meet with him once a week at his office to counsel him on how to balance his spiritual sense with his business goals.

His intuition was that they were going to change people’s lives by giving them technology they didn’t know they needed, that would be different from anything they knew. So they needed something friendly and approachable and likable. He took a page out of Sony’s book, because Sony was originally called Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, and Akio Morita said they needed something much more approachable.”

“I didn’t want to be a businessman, because all the businessmen I knew I didn’t want to be like.”

Steve’s natural inclination was to position himself as the critic, the rebel, the visionary, the lithe and nimble David against the stodgy Goliath of whatever powers might be. Collaborating with “the Man, ”to use the colloquial terminology of his day, wasn’t just problematic, it was tantamount to collusion. Yes, he wanted to play their game, but by his own rules.

I met Andy Grove [CEO of Intel from 1987 to 1998] when I was twenty-one. I called him up and told him I had heard he was really good at operations and asked if I could take him out to lunch.

3. Early Days of Apple

Steve had none of the tentativeness most young men or women might have as they set out to learn the nuances of a complicated new world like the venture capital business. He had such faith in the excellence of his work that he assumed someone would eventually agree to fund. He could be genuinely charming when this confidence didn’t lead him into boorishness. So he tirelessly navigated the Valley’s network of experts, one phone call and one meeting at time, until he finally found himself connected with Regis McKenna, the marketing whiz who had helped promote Intel, and who would eventually be instrumental in establishing Apple’s iconoclastic, and remarkably resilient, public image.

Silicon Valley has long depended on marketers nearly as much as it has depended on engineers. Every technological advance must be framed in a beguiling narrative if it’s to get off the workbench and into businesses or homes.

“We talked about how your financials are your best marketing tools,” says Regis McKenna. “To get people to sit up and pay notice, especially in the computer business, you need to be a successful financial company.” McKenna and his team worked with Steve to craft a marketing pitch designed to make the Apple II stand out as the friendly computer for more than just computer geeks. The headline of the first promotional brochure McKenna created for the machine asserted, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Steve finds so many ways to demystify for the average person the insanely geeky device that he and Woz had created. He understands their fundamental fear that computers may take over too much of modern life (a fear he would capitalize on repeatedly, most notably in the Orwellian imagery of Apple’s famous “1984” commercial). He sympathizes with their ignorance. He offers several analogies to comforting examples they will understand: Chevys, typewriters, cameras. Indeed, he makes using a computer seem no more complicated than taking a photograph, going so far as to call the Apple II “domesticated.” And yet he elevates both his company and its computer into something aspirational. He links this machine made a few months ago by some disheveled California misfits to Rolls - Royce, the seventy-three-year-old paragon of sophisticated industrial manufacturing and elite consumer taste.

He even calls Apple a world leader, an absolutely unprovable claim that rockets the little company into the same league as IBM and DEC and Burroughs, which were then the industry’s giants. He was an extraordinary extemporaneous speaker, and McKenna helped him wield that tool to great effect.

4. The Marketer

Apple the way Jobs saw it — as an extraordinary company that would humanize computing and do so with a defiantly unhierarchical organization.


Having a grand, bold goal was useless if you didn’t have the ability to tell a compelling story about how you’d get there.

“Our whole company is founded on the principle that there is something very different that happens with one person, one computer. It’s very different than having ten people to one computer. What we’re trying to do is remove the barrier of having to learn how to use a computer.”

Steve had the gift of being able to explain profoundly complicated technology in simple, clear, and even rhapsodic terms.

“Steve was P. T. Barnum incarnate,” says Lee Clow, a plain-spoken man who sports a wizardly beard and sprangly white hair. “He loved the ta-da! He was always like, ‘I want you to see the Smallest Man in the World! ’ He loved pulling the black velvet cloth off a new product, everything about the showbiz, the marketing, the communications.”

Working with a team of marketers and PR execs, Steve would rehearse endlessly and fastidiously. Bill Gates made appearances at a couple of these events, and remembers being backstage with Steve. “I was never in his league,” he remembers, talking about Steve’s presentations. “I mean, it was just amazing to see how precisely he would rehearse. And if he’s about to go onstage, and his support people don’t have the things right, you know, he is really, really tough on them.
“Steve was a freak about Sony, right ? Why did people spend fifteen percent more for a Sony product ? Steve would walk into our office, and look at the paper and feel the paper that Sony printed their brochures on. It wasn’t the products, it was the tactile feel, the surface and the presentation that mattered to him.”
Steve had always been able to describe the potential of obscure yet real technologies with such aplomb that he created something akin to lust in his audience.

When he held up the NeXT computer’s innards and described it as “the most beautiful printed circuit board I’ve ever seen in my life,” the audience gasped and then broke out into applause, despite the fact that at any distance over a few feet every circuit board looks pretty much the same.

He had absolute self - confidence that he could sell people a sense of discovery in the form of technological products they previously didn’t even know they wanted, a confidence that was usually justified. When he held up the NeXT computer’s innards and described it as “the most beautiful printed circuit board I’ve ever seen in my life,” the audience gasped and then broke out into applause, despite the fact that at any distance over a few feet every circuit board looks pretty much the same. The audience even clapped when he described the Cube’s ten - foot power cord. On this day, the crowd would follow wherever Steve would lead. When he called big universities “Fortune 500 companies disguised by another name,” they even seemed to believe that this was true. As the demo went on, Steve’s claims became more grandiose, as if these NeXT machines might revolutionize the academics of not just science but the arts as well.

That phone call to Lee Clow was the beginning of Steve’s first big move as iCEO. Steve decided Apple needed an advertising campaign to reaffirm Apple’s old core values: creativity and the power of the individual. It needed to be something radically unlike the meek and confused product advertising that Apple had been offering consumers for years. Instead, this campaign would celebrate the company — not the company as it was that summer of 1997, but the company Steve imagined Apple should be. On the surface, it seemed an outrageous and perhaps spendthrift goal, given the company’s losses and layoffs. But Steve was insistent.

Steve was a great performer in any setting, and he considered most interviews to be just another performance. He was a terrific extemporaneous thinker and talker, always confident that he could make the most of an opportunity to promote the company. He cared intensely about the look of any article he participated in, because he thought that photography and typography and a stylish layout helped convey the import of whatever message he wanted to get across.

Steve embraced the marketing adage that every single moment a consumer encounters a brand — whether as a buyer, a user, a store visitor, a passerby seeing a billboard, or someone simply watching an ad on TV — is an experience that adds either credits or debits to the brand’s “account” in his imagination. The “Apple experience” was an unprecedented merger of marketing and technology excellence that made customers want to come back for more.

Steve was P. T. Barnum incarnate. He loved the element of surprise when he debuted a product. While Apple had remained poker - faced on the subject of a phone for nearly three years, he wasn’t sure he could preserve a cone of silence for another few months. The iPhone would need to be tested by employees out in the real world, and sooner or later one would be spotted. He preferred to control the message.

5. The Product Designer

Steve believed to be the most important attribute of computers: that they were tools that could unleash and enhance human creativity.

Steve’s focus was completely different, and it never changed. It was exactly the same focus from the first time I met him to right to the very end: the product. We trust if we do a good job and the product’s good, people will like it. And we trust that if they like it, they’ll buy it. If we’re competent operationally, we will make money.”

While Steve’s gadgets and computers drew the most attention, the software that made them go was every bit as important. Steve always said that Apple’s primary competitive advantage was that it created the whole widget: the finely tuned symbiosis between the hardware and the software together defined a superior user experience.

How big should the dock icons magnify? What’s the type style? Why does this dial look the way it does? Every week, the agenda was to get Steve to approve the look and feel of each item. “ There is nothing in the operating system that he didn’t approve,” continues Slade. “ It was the opposite of how things were done at Microsoft, where they relied on these five-hundred-page specs [ documents laying out in detail every feature to be created by the software developers]. We had specs, too, but Steve never looked at them. He just looked at the product.”

When Steve saw something he didn’t like, he would tell a user interface designer by the name of Bas Ording to mock it up the way he wanted it. “ Bas was a wizard,” says Slade. “ He’d take ninety seconds pecking away, he’d hit a button, and there it was — a picture of whatever Steve had asked for. The guy was a god. Steve just laughed about it. ‘Basification in progress! ’ he’d announce.

By 2000, they had rebuilt and revived the company’s suite of computers. They were starting to provide users with a solid and modern software foundation. Morale was high, and a sense of mission had been restored. Most important, Steve had visibly changed for the better as a leader and as a manager. Over the three and a half years since his return, he had come to recognize that taking this more incremental approach to computer development can result in the kind of equilibrium that allows you to build a business designed to thrive over the long haul.

Apple employees had never had much respect for Microsoft’s ability to create anything but ungainly, confusing, and half - baked technologies for consumers. The animus went back decades. Even though Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint were instrumental in the early success of the Mac, Microsoft’s unforgivable sin, from the vantage point of Cupertino, was its derivative creation of Windows. Steve was being expedient when he offered to abandon Apple’s long-standing lawsuit against Microsoft to seal the deal with Gates upon his return in 1997. But folks at Apple still considered Windows a rip - off of Apple’s ideas, pure and simple. Worse yet, they saw it as an inelegant theft, and one that got imposed on the world by a kind of bullying that Apple both despised and envied.

Steve had a design mind-set. When I get to a hotel room, I don’t go, ‘Oh, this bedside table is so poorly designed, look at this, this could have been so much better. ’ When I look at a car, I don’t say, ‘Oh, if I had designed this car I would have done this and this.’ People like Jony Ive and Steve Jobs are always looking at stuff that way.

The iPod was Apple’s first mass-market consumer device, but it had come about because Steve and his team had taken one logical step after another: first iMovie, then a correction leading to iTunes, then the iPod.

After cancer surgery in 2004, he spent much of that seven-week convalescence thinking deeply about Apple, the computer business, and the trajectory of digital technology. He assembled an ambitious to - do list of what he wanted to accomplish once he returned to the office. “ When he came back from that surgery he was on a faster clock,” remembers Tim Cook. “ The company is always running on a fast - moving treadmill that doesn’t stop. But when he came back there was an urgency about him. I recognized it immediately. He would now focus even more of his attention on things like product development, marketing, and the retail stores, and less attention on manufacturing, operations, finance, and human resources matters.

“Learning about new technologies and markets is what makes this fun for me and for everyone at Apple,” Steve once told me, a few years after the iPod’s debut. “By definition, it’s just what we do, and there are lots of ways to do it. Five or six years ago we didn’t know anything about video editing, so we bought a company to learn how to do that. Then we didn’t know anything about MP3 players, but our people are smart. They went out and figured it out by looking at what was already out there with a very critical eye, and then they combined that with what we already knew about design, user interface, materials, and digital electronics. The truth is, we’d get bored otherwise.”

“He could refine and describe ideas so much better than anyone else could. I think very quickly he understood that I had a specific proficiency in terms of having good taste and understanding of aesthetics and form. But one of my problems is that I’m not always as articulate as I would like to be. I can feel things intuitively, and Steve could sense the full meaning of what I was getting at. So I didn’t have to justify it explicitly. And then what would happen was I would then see him articulate those ideas but in a way that I was completely incapable of doing. And that’s what was so amazing. I learned, I got better at it, but obviously I was never ever in his league.” - Jony Ive

“We both perceived objects in our environment, and people, and organizational structures intuitively in the same way. Beauty can be conceptual, it can be symbolic, it can stand as testament to progress and what humankind has managed to achieve in the last fifteen years. In that sense, it could represent progress, or it could be something as trivial as the machined face on a screw. That’s why we got on well, ’ cause we both thought that way. If my contribution was simply to the shapes of things, we wouldn’t have spent so much time together. It makes no sense that the CEO of a company this size would spend nearly every lunchtime and big chunks of the afternoon with somebody who just was preoccupied with form. “ Honestly, some of the loveliest, strongest, most precious memories are those of talking at a level that was very abstract and I could talk philosophically about aspects of design in ways we wouldn’t with other people. I would get self - conscious if I had to talk in such philosophical terms before a group of engineers, who are brilliantly creative, but when you go on and on about the integrity and meaning of what they are building, well, that’s just not their focus. There were times when Steve and I would talk about these things and I could see in people’s eyes that they’re thinking, Oh, there they go again. “ But then we also talked about the very particular. I would say to him ‘Look. This is how we’re designing this bracket. ’ Then I’d watch him take his glasses off, because he couldn’t see for shit, and I’d watch him just enjoy the beauty of all that’s inside. Even things like those special screws.” - Jony Ive.

“Steve cared deeply about the why,” says Cook. “The why of the decision. In the younger days I would see him just do something. But as the days went on he would spend more time with me and with other people explaining why he thought or did something, or why he looked at something in a certain way."

6. The Manager

“While Mr. Jobs’s stated positions on management techniques are all quite noble and worthy, in practice he is a dreadful manager. He is a prime example of a manager who takes the credit for his optimistic schedules and then blames the workers when deadlines are not met, ” he wrote, adding that Steve “misses appointments … does not give credit … has favorites … and doesn’t keep promises.” — complaint about Steve Jobs before he left Apple in the 1980s.

Steve led the NeXT group on retreats every once in a while, which gave him occasion to have the team all to himself, separate from the distractions of the rest of Apple. He was an inspirational speaker. “The work fifty people are doing here, ” he told them, “is going to send a giant ripple through the universe.”

“If you’ve worked enough, you know the difference between a boss who just gets it and someone you have to drag into understanding what you’re trying to do. And when you find that boss that just gets it, you’re just like, ‘Oh my God, it’s wonderful. You’re making my life so easy now.’ Steve was that kind of person. He was intellectually right up there with you. You didn’t really have to go into too many explanations. He cared passionately. And he never dialed it in.”

“I had had plenty of experience with the downside of Steve, ” remembers Lewin, the last of the five Apple exiles to sign up. “I definitely thought about the risk of going to work for him and leaving my job at Apple. But I worried that if I didn’t go to NeXT, I would have always said, ‘Dammit, I should have gone along for the ride.’ ”

Steve understood their sensibility. Engineers, at heart, are problem solvers. They thrive on digging their way out of sinkholes, especially the gnarly kind with no clear path forward. Steve challenged them in ways they had never imagined. No one else in the computer business had such radical goals and expectations; no one else seemed to care so much about their work. The idea of creating a computer that could transform the very process of education was cool; but to his incredibly talented programmers and gearheads, the idea of creating this particular computer for this particular boss was irresistible.

Speech by Steve at a holiday gathering – “It’s people who make our factory work. It’s people who write the software, who design the machines. We’re not going to have to out-scale our competitors, we have to out-think them. Every time we hire somebody, we put a brick into building our future. Hiring the right people is only the beginning — you also have to build an open corporation. Think of it this way: If you look at your own body, your cells are specialized, but every single one of them has the master plan for the whole body. We think NeXT will be the best possible company if every single person working here understands the whole basic master plan and can use that as a yardstick to make decisions. Sure, there is some risk with giving everybody access to all the corporate information, and potentially some loss. But what you gain vastly surpasses what you lose.” Steve believed that these magic - act announcements not only were good salesmanship but also helped galvanize employees and energize a company that was weary after its Sisyphean struggle to ready the product for launch.

“If you weren’t good at your job, he owed it to the rest of the team to get rid of you.But if you were good, he owed you his loyalty.”

“Even though Steve was not an engineer, ” Anderson recalls, “he had this great aesthetic taste and he was a visionary, and he had the power of personality to rally the troops."

“When I returned to Apple, I was blown away by the fact that a third of the people there really were A to A - plus people — the kind you’d do anything to hire, ” he told me. “Despite Apple’s troubles, they’d stayed, which was the miracle. That was the good karma of Apple. It was carried through by those people deciding to stay through it all. Another third were very good — you know, the really solid kind of people every company needs. And then there was another third who were unfortunate. I don’t know whether they’d ever been good or not, but it was time for them to leave. Unfortunately, a lot of those people were in management. Not only were they not doing the right things, but they were instructing everybody else to do the wrong things, too.

The key was to simplify Apple’s ambitions so that the company could sharply focus its substantial engineering talent and brand equity on a few key products and broad markets. Steve set out to show how Apple could transform itself into a profitable company while offering no more than four basic products.

Steve didn’t immediately set out to solve everything (upon his return to Apple in 1997) with the introduction of some groundbreaking new machine. This was a big change from what he’d attempted at NeXT and at Apple the first time around. Instead, he laid out a plan in broad strokes for the company’s entire product line. Before Steve would ask his engineers to come up with a particular new product, he wanted to be sure they understood how it would fit into Apple’s overall plan. He wanted everyone working from the same playbook, and he wanted that game plan to be crystal clear. He couldn’t afford any of the strategic confusion that had hampered the development of the NeXT computer. The key was to simplify Apple’s ambitions so that the company could sharply focus its substantial engineering talent and brand equity on a few key products and broad markets. Steve set out to show how Apple could transform itself into a profitable company while offering no more than four basic products: two separate models of desktop PCs, one for consumers and one for professionals; and two separate laptop versions aimed at those same constituencies. That’s it. Four quadrants, four product lines. No more redundant engineering efforts, extraneous manufacturing processes, or sales pitches aimed at tricking consumers into buying unnecessary features. With only four basic products to design, Apple’s engineers and industrial designers could invest the time and effort to make their hardware and their software distinctive. The quadrants returned Apple to its historic mission — to serve the high end of the consumer and professional markets with leading - edge products.

Saying no — to software features, new projects, new hires, boondoggle conferences, all kinds of press queries, even to Wall Street’s desire for better guidance on future earnings, and anything else deemed extraneous or distracting. Above all, saying no became a crucial way of keeping everyone, including himself, focused on what really mattered. The sheer simplicity of the quadrant strategy had laid the foundation for an organization that would say no again and again — until it said yes, at which point it would attack the new project with fierce determination.

Steve didn’t do the kinds of things that leaders often do to cement a strong group. He didn’t take the guys out to dinner. “We had good relationships within the senior executive team, ” remembers Tevanian, “but we built them ourselves. It wasn’t through Steve. I can count on one hand the times, in the eight years that I was there, that we went to dinner together, mostly to an Indian restaurant nearby.”

Steve didn’t give his team much formal feedback. “During the U.S. versus Microsoft antitrust case, ” says Tevanian, “Microsoft subpoenaed all my personnel records at Apple. So I’m sitting down with our lawyer, George Riley, and he says, ‘I’ve gotten your file from HR.’ He pulls it out and there’s one piece of paper in it, something meaningless. He’s like, ‘Avie, where is your file? Where’s your annual reviews and all that? ’ I told him that I’d never had an annual review! ” “Steve didn’t believe in reviews, ” remembers Jon Rubinstein. “He disliked all that formality. His feeling was, ‘I give you feedback all the time, so what do you need a review for? ’

Steve didn’t lavish anyone with praise, or make them available to reporters who wanted to get behind the scenes of what would become a remarkable comeback.

He didn’t want anyone to know who was doing great work at Apple, since he didn’t want them to get recruited by other companies.

Steve made sure in his own way that they knew he thought they were outstanding as well. Sometimes he’d ask one of them to join him on a long walk, whether around the Apple campus or near his home in Palo Alto. “Those walks mattered, ” Ruby remembers. “You’d think to yourself, ‘Steve is a rock star, ’ so getting quality time felt like an honor in some ways.” Steve also compensated his key employees richly, arranging lucrative long - term contracts loaded with stock options for everyone in the inner circle. “He was really good at surrounding himself with really good people and motivating them both philosophically and financially. You have to have the right mix. You have to provide just enough financial motivation in there so that people don’t just say, ‘Fuck you, I’m not taking this anymore.’ ”

Every Monday morning at nine o’clock, he convened the executive team ( the ET, as it came to be known ) in a conference room located in Building 1 of the Apple campus. Attendance was required. Referring to an agenda he himself had written up and distributed, he’d go around the table, asking specific questions about projects under development and getting updates from the team. Each person was expected to be fully prepared for any question he might ask about their area of responsibility.

His inner circle understood that Steve’s acerbic criticism wasn’t personal.
“What I loved about working for Steve, ” says Cue, “is that you learned that you could accomplish the impossible. Again and again.”

“Steve was the best delegator I ever met, ” Johnson said at Stanford. “He was so clear about what he wanted that it gave you great freedom.”

Intricate answers delighted Steve. When Apple took on a major project, he wasn’t just concerned with the design and marketing. He wanted to know everything about the project, and he expected his employees to attack every conceivable problem — from design and engineering to seemingly mundane tasks such as packaging and billing — with creativity. Steve told me he was just as proud of the microtransaction solution as he was of the redesigned iPod models he would introduce in conjunction with the opening of the online store.

“He believed in the unplanned meeting, in people running into people. He knew how everybody works at Pixar, where you’re one-on-one with your computer. He had the theory of this big atrium that would be able to house the whole company for a company meeting, and that would have everything that gets you out of your office and into that center spine. It would draw you to the center, or have you crossing it, many times a day.”

Catmull had preempted that possibility years earlier, when he wangled from Jobs a promise that he would never try to be a member of the Pixar “brain trust, ” an advisory council of directors and writers and animators who weigh in on every movie as it develops. But Catmull and Lasseter did use Steve as a critic. “Steve never said anything that hadn’t already been said by one of the other brain trust members, because they’re all really good at the storytelling, ” Catmull continues. “But there is something about his presence, and he was so articulate, that he could take the same thing said by somebody else and just cut right through it. He was very careful about how he went about this. Steve would preface it by saying, ‘I’m not a filmmaker, you can ignore everything I say.’ He literally said that every time. He would then just say what he thought the problem was. Right? Only the fact that it was articulate was the gut punch. He didn’t tell them to do anything, he just told them what he thought.

He was always big on going for walks with people. So he would take the director out on a walk, where you talked more slowly, you think through things … just talking, just a friendly back - and - forth talking. His goal was just to help them make a better movie. It always made it easier for the director to move forward. It wasn’t ever like ‘Oh, you screwed up.’ It was ‘What are we gonna do to move forward? ’ The past can be a lesson, but the past is gone. He believed that.”
This kind of one-on-one mentoring was something Steve learned over time. “Early on, if somebody didn’t measure up Steve wouldn’t hide it, ” says Catmull. “That kind of behavior wasn’t something I ever saw during his last ten years. Instead, he would take you off in private, and turn what could have been an embarrassing thing into something that actually became very productive and bonding.

Steve brought an unguarded and painfully blunt version of his personality to his relationships at work. That helped him inspire a unique kind of loyalty that was the glue that held together the great teams.

Steve would not indulge any laziness, entitlement, or overreaching ambition from members of his core team. He regularly pitted one against another in order to see whose ideas or intelligence would prevail. Everyone had to be in top form, solidly contributing and fully engaged, or they would find themselves subtly marginalized by Steve. Steve liked to control you. He liked to have you under his sphere of influence.

While he had changed over the years, he still didn’t have a natural soft touch when it came to discussing career options with his closest colleagues. So things ended badly with both Avie and Ruby. When the time came for a change in personnel, a company should move on as quickly as possible. It will soon find that circumstances change, and that it can do just fine without the old heroes. He prioritized ruthlessly, and when Avie and Ruby tumbled down in the ranks of people who could deliver what he believed Apple needed, he moved on.

“Steve cared, ” Cook continues. “He cared deeply about things. Yes, he was very passionate about things, and he wanted things to be perfect. And that was what was great about him. He wanted everyone to do their best work. He believed that small teams were better than large teams, because you could get a lot more done. And he believed that picking the right person was a hundred times better than picking somebody who was a little short of being right. All of those things are really true. A lot of people mistook that passion for arrogance. He wasn’t a saint. I’m not saying that. None of us are. But it’s emphatically untrue that he wasn’t a great human being, and that is totally not understood. some of his enduring goals: to create technology that is a window into the limitless world of information, and to create technology that is so simple and so powerful that it basically disappears. He focused on the parts of the ongoing business he cared about most — marketing, design, and the product introductions."

“Steve wanted people to love Apple, ” says Cook, “not just work for Apple, but really love Apple, and really understand at a very deep level what Apple was about, about the values of the company. He didn’t write them on the walls and make posters out of them anymore, but he wanted people to understand them. He wanted people to work for a greater cause.”

7. What Was He Like?

Steve was capable of extraordinary compartmentalization. It’s a talent that allowed him to master and keep track of the various pieces of an entity as complex as Apple upon his return. It allowed him to maintain his focus despite the cacophony of worries that came with knowing he had cancer. It also allowed him to maintain a deep and meaningful life outside the office, while revealing little of that to people who weren’t part of his close inner circle.

For a man who so thoroughly deviated from the mean, he had deeply human feelings, strengths, and failings. - Ed Catmull

He meditated often.

He understood the search for spiritual fulfillment — in fact, he had gone to India specifically to learn from Brilliant’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji, who had died just a few days before Steve arrived. Jobs felt a deep restlessness to change the world, not just build a mundane business.
Challenges, confrontations : in his limited experience, this was how you got things done; this was how the great stuff broke through.

As all “grown - ups ” come to understand, we wrestle with and learn how to manage our gifts and flaws over a lifetime. It’s an endless growth process. And yet it’s not as if we become wholly different people. Steve is a great object lesson in someone who masterfully improved his ability to make better use of his strengths and to effectively mitigate those aspects of his personality that got in the way of those strengths. His negative qualities didn’t go away, nor were they replaced by new good traits. But he learned how to manage himself, his own personal miasma of talents and rough edges.

Steve was innately comfortable trusting his gut; it’s a characteristic of the best entrepreneurs, a necessity for anyone who wants to make a living developing things no one has ever quite imagined before.

At Pixar he would lay the foundation of two of his great strengths: his ability to fight back in times of distress, and his ability to make the most of an innovation that put him ahead of anyone else in that field. In other words, it taught him how to keep his head and fight back when cornered, and how to run like the wind in the open field.

“People want to paint him like he’s Michelangelo, you know? ” says Slade. “But he was a real nervous Nelly, like an old - fashioned, tiny, old, small businessman saying, ‘ Shall I cut another nickel off it?’ Like a junk merchant.”

With Steve, says Ed Catmull, “The past can be a lesson, but the past is gone. His question was always, ‘ What are we going to do moving forward?’"

[Eddie] Cue handed his presentation to Steve — he’d made it visual, because everyone had told him that Steve preferred visual presentations, and he’d put it on paper, because everyone had told him Steve hated sitting through slides, especially in small meetings.

Steve loved great stores. When on vacation in Italy or France, he would insist that Laurene join him in visiting Valentino, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès, Prada, and the like. Wearing the ragged cutoff jeans and Birkenstocks of a bohemian American tourist out for a long day of informal sightseeing, Steve would squire Laurene around exclusive shopping districts. After strolling into one of these bastions of fashion, he and his striking blond wife would head in completely different directions. While Laurene browsed distractedly, Steve would buttonhole the salesclerks and bombard them with questions: Why had they chosen to devote so little space to their merchandise? How did people flow through the store? He’d look at the stores’ interior architecture, wondering how the interplay of wood, arches, stairways, and natural and unnatural light helped set a mood that was conducive to spending outrageous sums of money. To Steve, these stores were pulling off something he had never been able to manage: they sold a lifestyle product at an absurdly high margin by presenting it in a beautiful and yet informative way. The presentation itself helped justify the higher prices a customer was asked to pay. The dreary aisles and dull salesmen of Circuit City and CompUSA were making no such argument for Apple.

Steve had always taken great care of his body in ways that may have seemed quirky to others but that made sense to him. At one point in his younger days, he had been a fruitarian. He eventually settled into a vegetarian—primarily vegan—diet.

“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.”

Steve was deeply focused during these years (after cancer diagnosis). He had pared his life down so that he could be as expansive as possible in very specific aspects of his work. The dividing lines were clear. Family mattered. A small group of friends mattered. Work mattered, and the people who mattered most at work were the ones who could abet, rather than stifle, his single - minded pursuit of what he defined as the company’s mission. Nothing else mattered.

Steve didn’t spend much time looking back, or looking into dark corners of the future.

It is hard enough to see what is already there, to remove the many impediments to a clear view of reality, but Steve’s gift was even greater: he saw clearly what was not there, what could be there, what had to be there. His mind was never a captive of reality. Quite the contrary. He imagined what reality lacked, and he set out to remedy it. His ideas were not arguments but intuitions, born of a true inner freedom. For this reason, he possessed an uncannily large sense of possibility — an epic sense of possibility. Steve’s love of beauty — and his impatience with ugliness — pervaded our lives. No object was too small or insignificant to be exempt from Steve’s examination of the meaning, and the quality, of its form. He looked at things, and then he created things, from the standpoint of perfection. That could be an unforgiving standpoint, but over time I came to see its reasons, to understand Steve’s unbelievable rigor, which he imposed first and most strenuously on himself. - Laurene Powell

8. Quotes by Jobs

“What’s the point in looking back. I’d rather look forward to all the good things to come."

“If you look at true artists, if they get really good at something, it occurs to them that they can do this for the rest of their lives, and they can be really successful at it to the outside world, but not really successful to themselves. That’s the moment that an artist really decides who he or she is. 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. I don’t want to fail, of course. When I was going in I didn’t know how bad it really was, but I still had a lot to think about. I had to consider the implications for Pixar, and for my family, and for my reputation, and all sorts of things. And I finally decided, I don’t really care, this is what I want to do. And if I try my best and fail, well, I tried my best."

‘If you think something through hard enough,’ Steve would say, ‘you’ll get to the inevitable answer’

“You know, ” Steve told him, “you reminded me of something I learned at Pixar. On almost every film they make, something turns out to be not quite right. And they have an amazing willingness to turn around and do it again, till they do get it right. They have always had a willingness to not be governed by the release date. It’s not about how fast you do something, it’s about doing your level best.”

As Steve liked to say, “You can only connect the dots of how things really happened in hindsight.”

"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. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough, ” he told the crowd. “We believe that it is technology married with the humanities that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”

Conclusion

To me, Jobs' story shows in a nutshell all that goes into great product innovation. My mind was on fire after reading the book. It inspired me to improve my design sense, marketing skills and gave me ideas on how to think about product. I will be re-reading these notes periodically for insights and hope it's of use to others too.