Saturday, October 8, 2011

Playboy Interview with Steve Jobs 1985

A fascinating interview with Mr. Jobs by David Sheff of Playboy Magazine.  The interview takes place in February 1985.  In May, the board of directors at Apple would remove him from managerial duties and he resigned five months later to start NeXT.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we can see how from start to finish, Steve Jobs lays out the aesthetic and business principles through which he will ultimately prove to dominate the industry.  I have always believed that Jobs talent was his aesthetic sense.  Whenever the inevitable 'I'm a Mac, I'm a PS' debate started I always said that 'I'm a Mac' because it's the better aesthetic experience.  I spend a good part of my day in front of my computer.  Is it too much to ask that that this environment be aesthetically pleasing?  Jobs understood this.

There are so many wonderful quotes in the interview.  Yes, loads of snarky ones where he dismisses the PC as junk designed by committees who use market research to back their decisions.   And there's the story of how he dropped into a calligraphy class and his subsequent appreciation of the beauty of text led him to insist on multiple fonts for the Macintosh.

But other snippets show this young entrepreneur's deeper insight.  This one speaks to keeping an open mind as we age:

Playboy: Why is the computer field dominated by people so young? The average age of Apple employees is 29.

Jobs: It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.”

Jobs always had the fanatical vision of a True Believer:

Playboy: Obviously, you believe that computers are going to change our personal lives, but how would you persuade a skeptic? A holdout?
Jobs: A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go. Right now, computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours. They increase the quality of life, some of that by simply automating drudgery and some of that by broadening our possibilities. As things progress, they’ll be doing more and more for us.

Here he talks about his attention to detail:

"Playboy: What’s the difference between the people who have insanely great ideas and the people who pull off those insanely great ideas?
"Jobs: Let me compare it with IBM. How come the Mac group produced Mac and the people at IBM produced the PCjr? We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through." 

If you care about quality in design, this interview is highly recommended.  Read it.

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