Steve Jobs: Constitution and Courage
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Last week marked the 9th anniversary of Steve Jobs's passing in 2011. His legacy of innovative products and services is legendary. But what personal philosophy, and convictions drove this man?
What did Steve believe in? What was his perspective? How did he think about himself and how did he think about business. What passions fueled him, and what can we learn from him today?
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I'll never forget what I was doing when I heard about Steve Jobs passing. I was at not a particularly a good restaurant, having a rather mundane meal, when the news came on the TV behind the bar. I remember getting up from the table to hear what was going on, and then opened Twitter ...
Last week marked the 9th Anniversary since Steve left this earth on October 5th in 2011. He left behind a lifetime of creations that have made all our lives simpler. Yes he created some of the greatest gadgets in the world. But it was his constitution, his passion and his philosophy that still guides Apple's path. The foundation he created, the principals he lived by, and the battles he fought made the company what is today. Steve Jobs was Apple, and his spirit still lives on there.
What made this man great? What was different about him? How did he take Apple from a garage, to a valuation over 2 trillion dollars, with more cash reserves than the US government? First let's take a look at Steve in the early days, before the iPhone, before the round glasses, when Apple was known for its desktop computers. I think the overview leading into the interview with Steve is important to include because provides context for where we were, computers were just beginning to make their way into the American public's consciousness - a babe in the woods.
During the time of the interview, Apple had found success with the Apple II and was shipping the ill-fated Apple III. The three was a business-oriented personal computer released in 1980. Running the Apple SOS operating system, it was intended as the successor to the Apple II series, but was largely considered a failure in the market.
It was designed to provide key features business users wanted in a personal computer. Serious stability issues required a design overhaul and a recall of the first 14,000 machines produced. This interview took place before Job's being ousted from the company he created by CEO, John Scully.
In this interview Jobs spoke about many things that we already a part of his personal constitution. Jobs always saw the computer as a tool to amplify the inherent abilities that humans have. Jobs saw the process of the technological revolution turning very centralized things and making them more democratic and individualized - affordable to individuals.
Jobs saw himself as a tool maker, making tools that amplified man's ability to create tools they needed. Freeing people from the drudgeries of life, allowing people to work on the conceptual level, a creative level.
It's interesting to note that in October of 2019, a report was published in the California Management Review saying "Listening, communicating, people skills, empathy and emotional intelligence will soon become more important job skills than thinking tasks like analysis".
According to the two professors who researched the study, "artificial intelligence and automation have increasingly handling data dives and calculations in all sorts of professions, today’s thinking economy is fast transforming into the feeling economy."
Diving in further, Jobs, when challenged on whether computers were good or evil, he spoke with passion about seeing kids using computers and when they did you could see an instantaneous reflection of a part of themselves, the creative part of themselves being expressed. "He could not see it as something harmful, it saw it was something that was very democratic.
The interview dug even deeper and talked about the government collecting information on the public. Steve said the tool necessary to combat this growing trend is a computer literate public. At that point computer market saturation had only reached in a 1,000 households.
Steve prophesied something that was a part of his personal constitution - that eventually every person would have a computer, and that thought is what made him sleep better at night. Thinking that soon there would be a computer literate public - and that this was the best combatant against government snooping.
Apple's core values are what support the vision, shape the culture and reflect what the company believes in. The core values that Apple still holds today are from the constitution that Steve wrote in 1981, the same year from the video above. This simple listing is the essence of the company’s identity, the principles it does business with, and it's philosophy of values.
Steve wrote these original core values to inform people about his company:
One Person, One Computer
We are going for it and we will set aggressive goals
We are all on the adventure together
We build products we believe in
We are here to make a positive difference in society, as well as make a profit
Each person is important; each has the opportunity and the obligation to make a difference
We are all in it together, win or lose
We are enthusiastic
We are creative; we set the pace
We want everyone to enjoy the adventure we are on together
We care about what we do
We want to create an environment in which Apple values flourish
He didn't write about specific products, only referring to them as computers. The rest of the language throughout the document is about culture, aspirations and environment. Steve self-identified as a "hippie" and saw the people who worked with him as artists, poets, and writers, creatives that just happened to be the computer industries leading software developers and engineers. He saw their true creative selves, and extracted that essence into building his creations.
Steve was a deep thinker, you can watch him really ponder interviewer's questions before responding. These were not sound bites written by a marcom, and pushed to the press. These were a real glimpse inside the mind of a genius - a man that put his principals before the product.
In this interview from 1995 Steve had been pushed out of Apple. His next step was, well ... he developed NeXTSTEP at his new NeXT Computer company in the late 1980s and early 90's it was an object-oriented, multitasking operating system. It was initially used for its range of proprietary workstation computers such as the NeXTcube.
Although relatively unsuccessful at the time, it attracted interest from computer scientists and researchers. It was used as the original platform for the development of the Electronic AppWrapper, the first commercial electronic software distribution catalog to collectively manage encryption and provide digital rights for application software and digital media, a forerunner of the modern "app store" concept.
It was also the platform on which Tim Berners-Lee created the first web browser, and on which id Software developed the Doom video game. After the purchase of NeXT by Apple, it became the source of the popular operating systems like the macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS.
In remember reading a story about NeXT and what Steve was working on. NeXTcube was a wild design among the usual beige boxes that housed computers in those days. Viewing from today's perspective you can see how this design was eventually was distilled down forming today's iMac.
Steve had courage, he always fought for what he believed in, all the way to the door at Apple. And when met with this adversity he fought back and created something that stands the test of time to this day. When you consider how much influence this OS has on today's Apple products, I think it was fate that had him leave Apple, so he could create his true legacy - the next level for Apple.
Steve would say things like "Microsoft has no taste" and that they were producing substandard products that lacked creativity and soul, even when NeXT was barely a blip on the radar. He wouldn't back down, he wouldn't give up - he just continued to build products people loved. Think about Steve's aplomb, at 12 years old he called Bill Hewlett and told him who he was building a frequency counter and he needed some parts for it. Bill gave Steve his 1st summer job at H-P.
At H-P, Jobs discovered the companies culture and how well they treated everyone, this was later manifested in his written constitution. Jobs says it was if the company knew its true value, was in their employees. Although he had worked at teletype terminals before, this was Jobs first exposure to a desktop computer. He fell in love and visited the Palo Alto lab several times a week to spend a few hours on the machine. It was around this same time that Steve met the Woz - Steve Wozniak.
When Steve, and Woz got together one of their projects was creating a tone generator (aka as a Blue Box)), The box allowed users to generate tones that controlled AT&T's computer telephone network and make calls anywhere int he world. Heady stuff for a teenager at that time. But Jobs takeaway from that experience is that two young kids could build something, themselves that control billions of dollars of infrastructure in the world.
They made and could control a little thing, that controlled a giant thing. Their Blue Box logo included the tagline "He's got the whole world in his hands." With the imminent launch of iPhone 12, we really do now, have the whole world in our hands. Job's says "I don't think there ever would have been an Apple computer - had there not been Blue Boxing."
Job's said the original Apple computer was born out of necessity. There were computers in Mountain View that they could get free time-sharing on, but they required a terminal. Steve, and Woz could not afford a terminal, so they designed and built one.
The original Apple I was this terminal with a microprocessor put in on their backend. They built the connection link and then built the computer for themselves because they could not afford to buy anything. No doubt their experience with the Blue Box gave them the conviction that they could create a machine to access these huge mainframe computers, which coincidently were in Mountain View, California. Where Google's headquarters resides today ...
It's interesting to note that sales of their initial computers came from friends with similar interests. These friends that had the resources to scavenge the parts, but were not savvy enough to build them. But Jobs and Woz had trained themselves, through the Blue Box and other projects, they learned how to design and create a circuit board that their friends could purchase from them.
Steve sold his Volkswagen Bus and Woz sold his calculator to get enough money together to have this circuit board made for them. This allowed mass production of the Apple I computer. After making a large amount of boards Steve went to the first computer shop in California and tried to sell their excess inventory to the Byte Shop. The owner ordered 50 units but with a caveat , Jobs and Woz had to deliver fully constructed computers, not just circuit boards.
Apple is Born!
Jobs and Woz ordered all the parts they needed, leveraging Net 30 terms and began manufacturing the Apple I for mass production. After the Apple I, Steve and Woz started designing and building the Apple II. Each of the two had their own agenda, Woz wanted to produce a machine with color graphics and Jobs had the vision of delivering the first packaged computer system. A computer you could take out of the box and use right away. No assembly required. They deliver both of their dreams with the Apple II, even down to designing the packaging it came in.
Understanding how the company came together leads me to an understanding of why Steve Wozniak, still to this day travels the world encouraging young children to get involved in computing. I'm sure if Steve were still alive today he would be doing the same.
I like to think that Jobs in up in heaven, smiling down on the upcoming iPhone 12's design. This years model reflects one of Apple's most iconic designs. New models take their cues from the iPhone 4, the device that really put Apple on the map. Both dreams are still being realized, the new models have a Super Retina OLED display for Woz, with newly designed, streamlined packaging, with less e-waste for Steve.
In 1977, when designer Rob Janoff created the classic Apple logo, the company was headquartered in a strip mall and consisted on three partners. But Jobs knew the value of branding and hired Rob to create the logo for the Apple II. He wanted the company name and logo to be fused together as one, an apple to designate Apple Computers.
The iconic design is known worldwide, and is still being used today. Following his initial meeting, Rob went to work developing the Apple icon based on real apples. When asked how he approached the Apple logo design, he replied “It was very simple really. I just bought a bunch of apples, put them in a bowl, and drew them for a week or so to simplify the shape.”
This design, once again, came from the color that Woz wanted and the branding and packaging that Jobs wanted. This now-classic six color striped design was an indicator that the Apple II had a color monitor, Jobs only wish was to have green as the top stripe, because "thats where the leaf is". The bite was to indicate that the logo was indeed an Apple, so it would not be mistaken for a cherry tomato. It also allowed for wordplay on bite and byte - a widely used nerd term at the time.
When Apple built it's new Cupertino headquarters it used the original colors from Rob's design incorporating into design features throughout the facility. But it's also used in the six individual arcs a rainbow if you will, that forms an amphitheater right in the middle of Apple Park, a huge natural outdoor space, inside the new ring shaped campus. This was done to commemorate Steve Jobs.
It's interesting that last year, Apple also included a set of wallpapers in iPhone 11 that used the same striped design. As today's world is more tumultuous, it's nice to return that Apple is looking back to its roots, utilizing some of their most endearing designs, and returning to simpler times.
When deciding to build their new headquarters, Jobs spoke about how he acquired the land formerly owned by Hewlett-Packard, where Steve got his first summer job. The new headquarters was a huge undertaking that was begun before Steve passed. This five billion dollar structure, now houses over 12,000 employees and includes the Steve Jobs Theater where Apple holds events.
There is many business lessons to learn from these few simple things. Stay true to your beginnings, build with purpose, focus on simple designs, and use the resources that are within your grasp. But most of all have the courage to fight for these principals, and create something great.
So now we have some of the backstory lets jump to June of 2010, Steve was interviewed by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the All Thing D8 event. This interview was at a tremendous juncture in the world of technology. Many companies were entering the smartphone trying to reproduce Apple's success in the marketplace. Apple had launched both iPhone and iPad, and was on fire.
Google parted ways with Apple and began competing with Android, Microsoft was readying Windows Phone - the iPad was still in its infancy and iPhone 4 was about to launch. A beta handset was separated from the Apple employee and the new iPhone was revealed before launch.
Waters were swirling in the technology industry, Apple was being criticized for not including a Adobe Flash player in the iPad. When questioned about his reasoning, Steve replied with great passion “We’re just people trying to run this company, We’re trying to make great products, but at least we have courage of our convictions to say we don’t think this technology is part of what makes a great product. We’re going to leave it out, some people are not going to like that."
Jobs continued "They're going to call us names, but we’ll take the heat because we want to make the best products in the world for customers. Instead, we are going to focus on these technologies which we think in their ascendancy. What we think are the right technologies for customers. And you know what they are paying us to make those choices. That’s what a lot of customers pay us to do. Is try and make the best products we can, and if we succeed, they’ll buy em’ and if we don’t, they won’t."
MIC DROP 🎤 The audience broke into applause, understanding that Steve had both passion and principals baked into his DNA. Again, he drew from his original constitution, relying on his courage and convictions to build what he wanted, not what the industry thought he should build.
If you haven't watched the video yet, please take the hour to do so. It takes place at a time of great convergence in the technology industry. One of the most fascinating things about the video is that so many topics spoken about then, have manifested in Apple products and services that are just now being released. Services like Apple News+, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV are interspersed throughout the conversation with the hosts and questions from the audience - it's crazy in hindsight.
One of the most eye-opening moments is when Steve defends the policies surrounding the App Store. He share his philosophy and details an incident that recently made headlines, the battle between Fortnite and Apple. Steve tells the audience "What happens sometimes is that some people lie, we find it, and reject it, and they run to the press, and get their 15 minutes of fame and hope it will get us to change our minds. We take it on the chin, and we move on.”
Another issue that came is privacy and again Steve pushed his principals forward saying “We’ve always had a very different view of privacy than some of our colleagues in the Valley." It's kind of ironic that Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was waiting in the wings, next to be interviewed ...
Jobs continues saying “We take privacy extremely seriously. That’s one of the reasons we have the curated apps store. We have rejected a lot of apps that want to take a lot of your personal data and suck it up into the cloud. Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for. In plain English, and repeatedly, that’s what it means. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data.” Those principals are continued at Apple to this day. As devices get more capable they also get more secure - Apple is building a highly secure technological infrastructure for users.
I could go on and on about Steve, what he accomplished in his career and how much he advanced technology. But I think the real measure of Steve Jobs is the constitution he established, the courage he had to pursue his dreams and conviction he had, despite any odds against him.
I'm not sure but during the questioning I think Steve knew he was very sick, when asked if he had anything he would add to his famous address at Stanford, he replied "I’ve no idea. I’d probably just turn up the volume a little bit because the past few years have reminded me how precious life is." I don't know if Steve was referring to some other personal matter in his life ... But as he passed away the following year I tend to think he was talking about himself. You can see his sadness when he said this. From the lens of 2020, it's one of the few times, Jobs publicly revealed himself.
I think it's great that in these uncertain times that Apple is bringing back a design from happier times. The updated styling and design of the iPhone 12, clearly is an homage to Steve Jobs.
I'm very excited about Apple's plans for the future. The Big Sur update is the biggest change to the macOS since Steve brought NeXT back to Apple. I think we're going to see a magical iPhone 12.