We are always surprised when writers suddenly realize they have hours and hours of unreleased Steve Jobs interviews that they forgot about so long after his passing. Fast Company’s Brent Schlender has such a trove from Jobs’ NeXT (and Pixar) years.
GREAT TECHNOLOGY IS INVISIBLE
“The thing that I really love about Pixar is that it’s exactly like the LaserWriter. I remember seeing the first page come out of [Apple's] LaserWriter [in 1985]–which was the first laser printer, as you know–and thinking, There’s awesome amounts of technology in this box. There’s the graphic engine, there’s the controller, there’s the PostScript software, awesome amounts of stuff. And yet no one is gonna care and they don’t need to know; they’re gonna see this output, and they’re gonna go, I think that’s great. They’re gonna be able to judge for themselves.
“And it’s the same with Toy Story. 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. “
GOOD MANAGEMENT IS LIKE THE BEATLES
“My model of management is the Beatles. The reason I say that is because each of the key people in the Beatles kept the others from going off in the directions of their bad tendencies.
“They sort of kept each other in check. And then when they split up, they never did anything as good. It was the chemistry of a small group of people, and that chemistry was greater than the sum of the parts. And so John kept Paul from being a teenybopper and Paul kept John from drifting out into the cosmos, and it was magic. And George, in the end, I think provided a tremendous amount of soul to the group. I don’t know what Ringo did.
“That’s the chemistry [at Pixar] between Ed [Catmull] and John [Lasseter] and myself. It’s worked pretty doggone well. We talk about things a lot, and sometimes one of us will want to do something that’s really stupid, or maybe not stupid but . . . oh, I don’t know . . . maybe not the wisest thing in the long run for the studio. And, you know, at least one of the other two will say, ‘Hey, you know, I think there’s a better way to do that.’ So we’ll all slow down and think it through, and we usually come up with a much better way.”
THE THINGS JOBS MISSED
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NETWORK
“The last few years at NeXT, I’ve gotten a little better glimpse of what I really saw at Xerox PARC [in 1979], which was two things. One blinded me to the other because it was so dazzling. The first, of course, was the graphical user interface.
“The second thing I saw–but didn’t see–was the elaborate networking of personal computers into something I would now call ‘interpersonal computing.’ At PARC, they had 200 computers networked using electronic mail and file servers. It was an electronic community of collaboration that they used every day. I didn’t see that because I was so excited about the graphical user interface. It’s taken me, and to some extent the rest of the industry, a whole decade to finally start to address that second breakthrough– using computers for human collaboration rather than just as word processors and individual productivity tools. “
THE MERGER OF TELEVISION AND COMPUTERS
“I don’t really believe that televisions and computers are going to merge. I’ve spent enough time in entertainment to know that storytelling is linear. It’s not interactive. You go to your TV when you want to turn your brain off. You go to your computer when you want to turn your brain on. Those are not the same thing.”
THE POTENTIAL FOR MUSIC SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES
“Nobody wants to subscribe to music. They’ve bought it for 50 years. They bought 45s, they bought LPs, they bought 8-tracks, they bought cassettes, they bought CDs. Why now do they want to start renting their music? People like to buy it and they like to do what they damn well please with it when they buy it.
“The rental model is a money-driven thing. Some finance person looked at AOL getting paid every month and said, ‘I’d sure like to get some of that recurring subscription revenue. Wouldn’t that be nice?’ It’s certainly not a user-driven thing. Nobody ever went out and asked users, ‘Would you like to keep paying us every month for music that you thought you already bought?'”
THE PAYOFF OF A GREAT EMPLOYEE
“In most businesses, the difference between average and good is at best 2 to 1, right? Like, if you go to New York and you get the best cab driver in the city, you might get there 30% faster than with an average taxicab driver. A 2 to 1 gain would be pretty big.
“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.”
HOLLYWOOD VS. SILICON VALLEY
“Hollywood and Silicon Valley are like two ships passing in the night. They are not trading passengers. They speak a different jargon; they have grown up with completely different models for how to grow a business, for how to attract and retain employees, for everything. They’ve grown up with completely different role models, and so the people think entirely differently. I mean, when you’re in Silicon Valley, you don’t have to explain Silicon Valley to anyone else because everybody’s here and understands it. And the same is evidently true of Hollywood–neither side can explain themselves to the other very well at all.
“These are parallel universes that have less in common than one would think. What I like in Silicon Valley is to hang out with the engineers. What I like about the people I’ve met from Hollywood are the creative people. They’re the heart of Hollywood, not the people driving around in their Mercedes SLs talking on their cellular phones and making deals, the agents and stuff; I couldn’t care less about that–that’s not Hollywood to me.
“The part of Hollywood that we have attracted [at Pixar] is the creative side, the creative talent. We value that exactly equally with the technical talent.”
BUILDING A COMPANY IS A MARATHON
“Pixar has been a marathon, not a sprint. There are times when you run a marathon and you wonder, Why am I doing this? But you take a drink of water, and around the next bend, you get your wind back, remember the finish line, and keep going.
“Fortunately, my training has been in doing things that take a long time. You know? I was at Apple 10 years. I would have preferred to be there the rest of my life. So 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.”