Steve Jobs & The Lost Years


Brent Schlender, a veteran journalist who wrote for Fortune and the Wall Street Journal, had always enjoyed a close relationship with Steve Jobs and got unprecedented access to the computer industry legend. He recently discovered a set of interview tapes with Jobs in his storage shed. These tapes have Jobs talking about his anger towards Apple for firing him and how much he loved Pixar.

If you have time, then you should read this story Schlender he has published in the Fast Company magazine. It focuses on what Schlender calls “the wilderness years.”

…this middle period was the most pivotal of his life. And perhaps the happiest. He finally settled down, married, and had a family. He learned the value of patience and the ability to feign it when he lost it. Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time, NeXT and Pixar, turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return.

In other words, it is not our successes but our failures that define us. How we choose to deal with failure, learn from it and grow because it, makes us who we really are.

The Pixar Story

The story also highlights the slow and steady growth of Pixar and Jobs’ role in the company and its history. Apparently, he wanted Apple to buy it, but the board wouldn’t agree. He eventually bought the company for $5 million and put another $5 million into the company to build specialized graphics computers that sold for around $135,000. When that didn’t work, when John Lasseter and Ed Catmull told Jobs that they could create short animation films (that would eventually become Pixar’s hall-mark), he went all in. As part of the change of strategy Jobs fired much of the Pixar staff and told the new team:

I got everybody together, and I said, “At our heart, we really are a content company. Let’s transition out of everything else. Let’s go for it. This is why I bought into Pixar. This is why most of you are here. Let’s go for it. It’s a higher-risk strategy, but the rewards are gonna be much higher, and it’s where our hearts are.”

Ironically, this all or nothing strategy is what would eventually save Apple itself too. Of course, he would later get Disney to do a deal with Pixar that would eventually make Pixar a massively valuable company.  The lessons learned from Pixar would eventually help save Apple and then propel it to new heights. I picked out these little bits — some choice quotes and wisdom from Steve Jobs essentially to highlight Pixar and its impact on Jobs.

The audience isn’t gonna care about the Pixar animation system, they’re not gonna care about the Pixar production system, they’re not gonna care about anything–except what they will be able to judge for themselves, and that’s the end result, which they can appreciate without having to understand what went into it, what went into creating it. And that, I love.

I guess, that is how they feel about iPhone and iPad.

The difference between the best worker on computer hard-ware and the average may be 2 to 1, if you’re lucky. With automobiles, maybe 2 to 1. But in software, it’s at least 25 to 1. The difference between the average programmer and a great one is at least that. The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world. And when you’re in a field where the dynamic range is 25 to 1, boy, does it pay off.

Well, looks like guys from Google and Facebook have learnt that well from Jobs.

Pixar has been a marathon, not a sprint….I’m a long-term kind of person. I have been trained to think in units of time that are measured in several years. With what I’ve chosen to do with my life, you know, even a small thing takes a few years. To do anything of magnitude takes at least five years, more likely seven or eight. Rightfully or wrongfully, that’s how I think.

Yup, maybe all those who want to emulate Steve Jobs remember that!



Delicious irony. Talk about long-term views, but be in such a hurry to get an article out that you don’t have time to check your writing.


> To do anything of magnitude takes at least five years, more likely seven
> or eight.

Right on! So why do so many (particularly Silicon Valley) startups give away their equity to investors (VCs for example) from such early stages (such as in their first year or two of business)? That’s just plain stupid. Yet, there tends to be this machismo show-offness bred perhaps by deep insecurity for these youthful companies to brag about who their investors how, how many rounds of funding they have received, etc.

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