Playboy, Newsweek chat with Steve Jobs

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A few months ago, Playboy published an online version of an interview they conducted with Steve Jobs in 1985. With Jobs currently on medical leave, it seems a timely opportunity to review his not-so-humble origins as Apple’s first CEO. Some of my favorite excerpts discuss his relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak:

Playboy: What happened to the partnership [with Steve Wozniak] as time went on?

Jobs: The main thing was that Woz was never really interested in Apple as a company. He was just sort of interested in getting the Apple II on a printed circuit board so he could have one and be able to carry it to his computer club without having the wires break on the way. He had done that and decided to go on to other things. He had other ideas.

Playboy: Such as the US Festival rock concert and computer show, where he lost something like $10,000,000.

Jobs: Well, I thought the US Festival was a little crazy, but Woz believed very strongly in it.

Playboy: How is it between the two of you now?

Jobs: When you work with somebody that close and you go through experiences like the ones we went through, there’s a bond in life. Whatever hassles you have, there is a bond. And even though he may not be your best friend as time goes on, there’s still something that transcends even friendship, in a way. Woz is living his own life now. He hasn’t been around Apple for about five years. But what he did will go down in history. He’s going around speaking to a lot of computer events now. He likes that.

Following suit, Newsweek has also published their own 1985 interview with Jobs. In this article are two themes in particular that I have trouble reconciling with the man who leads Apple today. The first is his prediction of his role in the world and in the industry:

I personally, man, I want to build things. I’m 30. I’m not ready to be an industry pundit. I got three offers to be a professor during this summer, and I told all of the universities that I thought I would be an awful professor. What I’m best at doing is finding a group of talented people and making things with them … I’m probably not the best person in the world to shepherd it to a five- or ten-billion-dollar company, which I think is probably its destiny …I don’t think that my role in life is to run big organizations and do incremental improvements.

Despite that disclaimer, Jobs has made it practically a corporate philosophy to make Apple customers into beta-testers, with first-generation hardware that is rarely up to snuff. Given the "incremental improvements" made each year to the iPhone and soon the iPad — both products being not revolutionary so much as evolutionary — it seems Jobs had a change of heart.

Second, there’s the dejection Jobs expressed at his diminished role in his final days at Apple:

I was, you know, asked to move out of my office. They leased a little building across the street from most of the other Apple buildings. I, we nicknamed it Siberia … So I moved across the street, and I made sure that all of the executive staff had my home phone number. I knew that John had it, and I called the rest of them personally and made sure they had it and told them that I wanted to be useful in any way i could, and to please call me if I could help on anything. And they all had a, you know, a cordial phrase, but none of them ever called back. And so I used to go into work, I’d get there and I would have one or two phone calls to perform, a little bit of mail to look at. But … this was in June, July … most of the corporate-management reports stopped flowing by my desk. A few people might see my car in the parking lot and come over and commiserate. And I would get depressed and go home in three or four hours, really depressed. I did that a few times and I decided that was mentally unhealthy. So I just stopped going in. You know, there was nobody really there to miss me.

For a man who was and is often characterized as blustery, overbearing, and obnoxious, such humble disconsolation seems unlike the legend that is Steve Jobs.

Finally, Apple II blogger Steven Black injects some further humanity into the discussion:

… as a guy in the industry who cut my teeth on, and still have massive affection for, Apple ][s, and who from my early teens took a deep interest in all of the stories surrounding the germination of the personal computer industry in the 70s & early 80s, and who lived through the times that saw its initial genesis, I can’t help putting all of the intellectualism aside and just hoping that this doesn’t signal the end of Steve’s career, or indeed an inexorably downward spiral in his health.

Steve’s an icon and a giant of the industry. This sounds blindingly obvious to say. But for many of us around my age, he is in a very real sense the father of our careers, and the founder of a not insignificant proportion of our way of life. I just hope all of the non-geek Apple customers out there can appreciate what the man has achieved in his lifetime. If & when Steve is lost to us, whenever that may occur, it will really feel like the captain has left the bridge.

(Hat tips to Taimur Asad, Leander Kahney, and Arnold Kim)