Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview

I was recently flicking through a number of different genres on Netflix, when I happened to stumble across a lost interview with Steve Jobs from 1995.

1995 was during the ‘in between’ years when Steve had left Apple and started ‘NeXT’ with five other former Apple colleagues.

Now at the age of 40, he had started to have more to do with Pixar, becoming President & CEO of Pixar Animation Studios (1995 was also the year Toy Story came out, so a good move there).

Steve sold NeXT to Apple 18 months after this interview took place, and 6 months after that he was Apple’s new CEO.

It’s called the ‘lost interview’ because the tape was thought missing for years. Curious about the context of this footage and what Steve Jobs was going through at this time, I elected to sit back and watch.

The interview begins with Steve talking about his early days of knocking up a gadget in his garage with his long standing friend Steve Wozniak. Jobs was about 15 at the time, and they took inspiration from John Draper (otherwise known as Captain Crunch) who had found a way to make free phone calls. They discovered if you could make certain phone tones, the entire network would think you were a computer.

They devised a blue box (with the logo ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’) and tried it out (was this the fore runner to Skype..? 🙂 maybe not…). They even called the Vatican pretending to be Henry Kissinger, hoping to speak to the Pope. They managed to wake up several members of the hierarchy before they were rumbled…

The lesson they took from this was that they actually had the ability to build something that could control billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure across the world, with a small device. Steve said if they hadn’t have built this blue box, the inspiration and scope for the first Apple computer would never have happened.

Also apparent, even from that early project, was that the guys had two main objectives: it had to be simple, and it had to work.

Now those are to great objectives to start out with. If you can start with a complex set of requirements and make the application simple and ultimately just work, then that’s pure genius.

As the interview goes on Steve talks more about the simplified user interfaces that were created with the Apple II, and how they went about making this easier for the user, which is ironically quite a complicated process and which comes at a price for the developer.

The developer has to think a lot more about the simplicity and how to convey messages in an easy to understand manner, along with thinking about all of the connotations of actions a user can perform so they can use the application how it was intended, but that’s the challenge!

Steve talked about how important the team and the people around him were. He started with a no holds barred accusation towards John Sculley, the CEO at the time of Steve’s departure. Steve said Sculley had caught the ‘serious disease’ of thinking that if you have a great idea, you’ve already done 90% of the work. Then you can just pass it on, and other people will build it.

Steve Jobs’ view is that a good product starts out as an idea which changes and grows. Every day you should discover something new, and you need to have a team of ‘A players’ working hard on something that they’re passionate about, constantly polishing that idea. An approach that I totally agree with.

Steve then went on to discuss how he learnt about business strategy. He says it was a pretty simple concept: he just questioned everything.

He found that a common answer to the question, ‘Why are you doing that?’ to be, ‘Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ And that wasn’t good enough.

A brilliant example he gave was around the notion of standard cost and a variance. In accounting terms, this is used when you’re not quite sure the exact cost of something, so you put in a nominal cost. Then at the end of a given period you adjust it.

The key thing that Steve pointed out is that the reason a business doesn’t know what an accurate cost is, is because their information systems aren’t good enough. They wouldn’t have had good enough controls to know how much it costs.

It makes you think, imagine if your IT system isn’t good enough, how much money could you save by replacing it?

An interesting point that is made in the interview is that everybody should learn how to programme a computer, because it teaches you to think in a certain way. In fact with the Raspberry Pie, I saw a friend of mine teaching his young kids basic logic, and it is true.

A comment that really struck home with me was when Steve was asked to predict what the computing industry would look like in ten years’ time. He said that the internet would be the fulfilment of a lot of our dreams: a device for communication and a defining moment for social computing.

I remember at the time (1995) the internet phenomena was really just starting. A lot of people, including myself, were poised to see how it would pan out.

It’s nearly 20 years now since the interview, and we have seen the e-commerce and social media revolutions take place, but the best bit is yet to come… Microsoft are starting to roll out Social Listening for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which will start to see customer interaction, along with social media interaction converge and will start to redefine what we call customer relationship management.

One of the best comments that Steve made (in my opinion), was that he never did it for the money. In Steve’s words, the most important thing was the company, the people, and the products. That’s an awesome mantra to live by.

He also didn’t care about being right. He acknowledged that he’s had heated arguments with people he disagreed with, but he would allow his mind to be changed:

“I don’t mind being wrong, what matters is that we do the right thing.”

So that’s my summary of the Steve Jobs Lost Interview, you can see the full interview here, be warned though it is long but very much well worth it!