Horseshoe Bend in Autumn – Vermont
Photo by Kevin McNeal (http://www.kevinmcnealphotography.com)
Horseshoe Bend in Autumn – Vermont
Photo by Kevin McNeal (http://www.kevinmcnealphotography.com)
I recently finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. If you haven't read it, you might find the following comments from Jobs interesting.
My passion has been to build an enduring company where
people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary.
Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make
great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to
make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in
Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But
that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want
before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they
wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they
want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our
task is to read things that are not yet on the page. Edwin Land of Polaroid
talked about the intersection of the humanities and science. I like that
intersection. There’s something magical about that place. There are a lot of
people innovating, and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason
Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our
innovation. I think great artists and great engineers are similar, in that they
both have a desire to express themselves. In fact some of the best people
working on the original Mac were poets and musicians on the side. In the
seventies computers became a way for people to express their creativity. Great
artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were also great at science.
Michelangelo knew a lot about how to quarry stone, not just how to be a
People pay us to integrate things for them, because they
don’t have the time to think about this stuff 24/7. If you have an extreme
passion for producing great products, it pushes you to be integrated, to
connect your hardware and your software and content management. You want to
break new ground, so you have to do it yourself. If you want to allow your
products to be open to other hardware or software, you have to give up some of
At different times in the past, there were companies that
exemplified Silicon Valley. It was Hewlett-Packard for a long time. Then, in
the semiconductor era, it was Fairchild and Intel. I think that it was Apple
for a while, and then that faded. And then today, I think it’s
Apple and Google—and a little more so Apple. I think Apple has stood the test
of time. It’s been around for a while, but it’s still at the cutting edge of
what’s going on.
It’s easy to throw stones at Microsoft. They’ve clearly
fallen from their dominance. They’ve become mostly irrelevant. And yet I
appreciate what they did and how hard it was. They were very good at the
business side of things. They were never as ambitious product-wise as they
should have been. Bill likes to portray himself as a man of the product, but
he’s really not. He’s a businessperson. Winning business was more important
than making great products. He ended up the wealthiest guy around, and if that was
his goal, then he achieved it. But it’s never been my goal, and I wonder, in
the end, if it was his goal. I admire him for the company he built—it’s
impressive—and I enjoyed working with him. He’s bright and actually has a good
sense of humor. But Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its
DNA. Even when they saw the Mac, they couldn’t copy it well. They totally
didn’t get it.
I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies
like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a
monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product
becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because
they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers
and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM
was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about
product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company,
the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It
happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my
fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and
it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as
Ballmer is running it.
I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when
what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go
public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it
takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s
how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went
before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or
two from now. That’s what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the
people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money.
That’s what I want Apple to be.
I don’t think I run roughshod over people, but if something
sucks, I tell people to their face. It’s my job to be honest. I know what I’m
talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That’s the culture I tried
to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they
think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same. And we’ve had some
rip-roaring arguments, where we are yelling at each other, and it’s some of the
best times I’ve ever had. I feel totally comfortable saying “Ron, that store
looks like shit” in front of everyone else. Or I might say “God, we really
fucked up the engineering on this” in front of the person that’s responsible.
That’s the ante for being in the room: You’ve got to be able to be super honest.
Maybe there’s a better way, a gentlemen’s club where we all wear ties and speak
in this Brahmin language and velvet codewords, but I
don’t know that way, because I am middle class from California.
I was hard on people sometimes, probably harder than I
needed to be. I remember the time when Reed was six years old, coming home, and
I had just fired somebody that day, and I imagined what it was like for that
person to tell his family and his young son that he had lost his job. It was
hard. But somebody’s got to do it. I figured that it was always my job to make
sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do
You always have to keep pushing to innovate. Dylan could
have sung protest songs forever and probably made a lot of money, but he
didn’t. He had to move on, and when he did, by going electric in 1965, he
alienated a lot of people. His 1966 Europe tour was his greatest. He would come
on and do a set of acoustic guitar, and the audiences loved him. Then he brought
out what became The Band, and they would all do an electric set, and the
audience sometimes booed. There was one point where he was about to sing “Like
a Rolling Stone” and someone fromthe audience yells
“Judas!” And Dylan then says, “Play it fucking loud!” And they did. The Beatles
were the same way. They kept evolving, moving, refining
their art. That’s what I’ve always tried to do—keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan
says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.
What drove me? I think most creative people want to express
appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by
others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make
little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other
members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want
to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow.
It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know
how—because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use
the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation
of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that
flow. That’s what has driven me.
When the floodlights flashed on, the possum looked for a better place to dine. He ran behind the corner of the porch, where he was out of the light. Coincidentally, the corner of the porch was about four feet from where I was sitting in the spa. I watched the possum munching on the bread. He was a big, well-fed marsupial, about the size of a large cat. Since he didn’t have any water to drink with his hunk of bread and he didn’t want to get choked, he really had to chew his food well. Fortunately, he had some big jaws and strong teeth behind that long nose and legendary grin, well suited for chewing. As I sat in the spa and watched him enjoying his meal, I felt lucky to witness such a sight at such close proximity. For people who have house possums (my sister Billie, for instance) this is not a rare sight, but it was a real treat for me.
Watching those teethy jaws chomping on the bread, I flashed back many years to another close encounter. Two friends and I had been to a New Years Eve party at the Stanley residence in Virginia. At about 2am we left the party, in high spirits. I was driving, Scott was in the passenger seat, and Dee was in the back seat. As we were winding down the long driveway, a possum scurried across the road. Scott yelled to stop, so I pointed the lights in the direction of the critter and hit the brakes. Scott bailed out of the car and ran after the possum. Dee and I couldn’t believe what happened next – the possum started climbing a tree and Scott grabbed it by the tail and pulled it off the tree! Dee and I were rolling around in the car laughing at Scott’s bold move and the possum’s misfortune. Scott held the possum out as far as he could from his body and gave it a shake as it tried to curl up to bite him. He started walking back to the car.
Jimi Hendrix exploded our idea of what rock music could be: He manipulated the guitar, the whammy bar, the studio and the stage. On songs like "Machine Gun" or "Voodoo Chile," his instrument is like a divining rod of the turbulent Sixties – you can hear the riots in the streets and napalm bombs dropping in his "Star-Spangled Banner."
His playing was effortless. There's not one minute of his recorded career that feels like he's working hard at it – it feels like it's all flowing through him. The most beautiful song of the Jimi Hendrix canon is "Little Wing." It's just this gorgeous song that, as a guitar player, you can study your whole life and not get down, never get inside it the way that he does. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicings that don't appear in any music book. His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil.
There are arguments about who was the first guitar player to use feedback. It doesn't really matter, because Hendrix used it better than anyone; he took what was to become Seventies funk and put it through a Marshall stack, in a way that nobody's done since.
It's impossible to think of what Jimi would be doing now; he seemed like a pretty mercurial character. Would he be an elder statesman of rock? Would he be Sir Jimi Hendrix? Or would he be doing some residency off the Vegas Strip? The good news is his legacy is assured as the greatest guitar player of all time.