I’ve read a lot of Steve Jobs interviews but until now I’d not seen this 1985 interview from Playboy.
It catches Steve Jobs at age 29, one year after the Macintosh was launched. He is by far the youngest person on Forbes’s list of richest Americans and one of only seven who made their fortunes on their own.
He’s portrayed by Playboy as the Mark Zuckerberg of his era: a Valley wunderkind with a magical gift for foreseeing the future. Of course, it’s interesting to look back and see how the future actually panned out.
Jobs comes across as a confident and knowledgeable, but not brash and arrogant. Here’s a few of the highlights:
There’s a telling anecdote from the introduction featuring Jobs and Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. My guess is that the birthday party is for Mick Jagger’s son. Jobs gave Jagger a Macintosh but the rocker reportedly didn’t show much interest in it:
The Interview was all but complete when I met Jobs at a celebrity-filled birthday party for a youngster in New York City. As the evening progressed, I wandered around to discover that Jobs had gone off with the nine-year-old birthday boy to give him the gift he’d brought from California: a Macintosh computer. As I watched, he showed the boy how to sketch with the machine’s graphics program. Two other party guests wandered into the room and looked over Jobs’s shoulder. ‘Hmmm,’ said the first, Andy Warhol. ‘What is this? Look at this, Keith. This is incredible!’ The second guest, Keith Haring, the graffiti artist whose work now commands huge prices, went over. Warhol and Haring asked to take a turn at the Mac, and as I walked away, Warhol had just sat down to manipulate the mouse. ‘My God!’ he was saying, ‘I drew a circle!’
But more revealing was the scene after the party. Well after the other guests had gone, Jobs stayed to tutor the boy on the fine points of using the Mac. Later, I asked him why he had seemed happier with the boy than with the two famous artists. His answer seemed unrehearsed to me: ‘Older people sit down and ask, “What is it?” but the boy asks, “What can I do with it?”‘
On getting his head shaved by a holy man
Jobs: … I was walking around in the Himalayas and I stumbled onto this thing that turned out to be a religious festival. There was a baba, a holy man, who was the holy man of this particular festival, with his large group of followers. I could smell good food. I hadn’t been fortunate enough to smell good food for a long time, so I wandered up to pay my respects and eat some lunch.
For some reason, this baba, upon seeing me sitting there eating, immediately walked over to me and sat down and burst out laughing. He didn’t speak much English and I spoke a little Hindi, but he tried to carry on a conversation and he was just rolling on the ground with laughter. Then he grabbed my arm and took me up this mountain trail. It was a little funny, because here were hundreds of Indians who had traveled for thousands of miles to hang out with this guy for ten seconds and I stumble in for something to eat and he’s dragging me up this mountain path.
We get to the top of this mountain half an hour later and there’s this little well and pond at the top of this mountain, and he dunks my head in the water and pulls out a razor from his pocket and starts to shave my head. I’m completely stunned. I’m 19 years old, in a foreign country, up in the Himalayas, and here is this bizarre Indian baba who has just dragged me away from the rest of the crowd, shaving my head atop this mountain peak. I’m still not sure why he did it.
His supervisor at HP’s favorite thing
Playboy: You went to work for Hewlett-Packard. How did that happen?
Jobs: When I was 12 or 13, I wanted to build something and I needed some parts, so I picked up the phone and called Bill Hewlett–he was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. He answered the phone and he was real nice. He chatted with me for, like, 20 minutes. He didn’t know me at all, but he ended up giving me some parts and he got me a job that summer working at Hewlett-Packard on the line, assembling frequency counters. Assembling may be too strong. I was putting in screws. It didn’t matter; I was in heaven.
I remember my first day, expressing my complete enthusiasm and bliss at being at Hewlett-Packard for the summer to my supervisor, a guy named Chris, telling him that my favorite thing in the whole world was electronics. I asked him what his favorite thing to do was and he looked at me and said, “To fuck!” [Laughs] I learned a lot that summer.
On growing apart from Steve Wozniak
Playboy: What happened to the partnership 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.
Jobs on the mouse
Playboy: Most computers use key strokes to enter instructions, but Macintosh replaces many of them with something called a mouse–a little box that is rolled around on your desk and guides a pointer on your computer screen. It’s a big change for people used to keyboards. Why the mouse?
Jobs: If I want to tell you there is a spot on your shirt, I’m not going to do it linguistically: “There’s a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button.” If you have a spot–”There!” [He points]–I’ll point to it. Pointing is a metaphor we all know. We’ve done a lot of studies and tests on that, and it’s much faster to do all kinds of functions, such as cutting and pasting, with a mouse, so it’s not only easier to use but more efficient.
Wishing he could price a Mac at $1,000
Playboy: That’s what critics charge you with: hooking the enthusiasts with premium prices, then turning around and lowering your prices to catch the rest of the market.
Jobs: That’s simply untrue. As soon as we can lower prices, we do. It’s true that our computers are less expensive today than they were a few years ago, or even last year. But that’s also true of the IBM PC. Our goal is to get computers out to tens of millions of people, and the cheaper we can make them, the easier it’s going to be to do that. I’d love it if Macintosh cost $1000.
On quality and motivation
Playboy: Does it take insane people to make insanely great things?
Jobs: Actually, making an insanely great product has a lot to do with the process of making the product, how you learn things and adopt new ideas and throw out old ideas. But, yeah, the people who made Mac are sort of on the edge.
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.
Playboy: Are you saying that the people who made the PCjr don’t have that kind of pride in the product?
Jobs: If they did, they wouldn’t have turned out the PCjr. It seems clear to me that they were designing that on the basis of market research for a specific market segment, for a specific demographic type of customer, and they hoped that if they built this, lots of people would buy them and they’d make lots of money. Those are different motivations. The people in the Mac group wanted to build the greatest computer that has ever been seen.
Why IBM was like Frito-Lay
Jobs: Look at this example: Frito-Lay is a very interesting company. They call on more than half a million accounts a week. There’s a Frito-Lay rack in each store, and the chips are all there, and every store’s got the identical rack and the big ones have multiples. For Frito-Lay, the biggest problem is stale product–bad chips, so to speak. For Frito-Lay’s service, they’ve got, like, 10,000 guys who run around and take out the stale product and replace it with good product. They talk to the manager of that department and they make sure everything’s fine. Because of that service and support, they now have more than an 80 percent share of every segment of chips that they’re in. Nobody else can break into that. As long as they keep doing what they do well, nobody else can get 80 percent of the market share, because they can’t get the sales and support staff. They can’t get it because they can’t afford it. They can’t afford it because they don’t have 80 percent of the market share. It’s catch-22. Nobody will ever be able to break into their franchise.
Frito-Lay doesn’t have to innovate very much. They just watch all the little chip companies come out with something new, study it for a year, and a year or two years later they come out with their own, service and support it to death, and they’ve got 80 percent of the market share of the new product a year later.
IBM is playing exactly the same game. If you look at the mainframe market place, there’s been virtually zero innovation since IBM got dominant control of that market place 15 years ago. They are going to do the same thing in every other sector of the computer market place if they can get away with it. The IBM PC fundamentally brought no new technology to the industry at all. It was just repackaging and slight extension of Apple II technology, and they want it all. They absolutely want it all.
This market place is coming down to the two of us, whether we like it or not. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s coming down to Apple and IBM.
On being a terror in third grade
Playboy: The valley your parents moved to has since come to be known as Silicon Valley. What was it like growing up there?
Jobs: It was the suburbs. It was like most suburbs in the U.S.: I grew up on a block with lots of kids. My mother taught me to read before I went to school, so I was pretty bored in school, and I turned into a little terror. You should have seen us in third grade. We basically destroyed our teacher. We would let snakes loose in the classroom and explode bombs. Things changed in the fourth grade, though. One of the saints in my life is this woman named Imogene Hill, who was a fourth-grade teacher who taught this advanced class. She got hip to my whole situation in about a month and kindled a passion in me for learning things. I learned more that year than I think I learned in any year in school. They wanted to put me in high school after that year, but my parents very wisely wouldn’t let them.
On being horrified the Apple II was used to target nuclear weapons
Playboy: And you think computers will help in that process.
Jobs: Well, I’ll tell you a story. I saw a video tape that we weren’t supposed to see. It was prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By watching the tape, we discovered that, at least as of a few years ago, every tactical nuclear weapon in Europe manned by U.S. personnel was targeted by an Apple II computer. Now, we didn’t sell computers to the military; they went out and bought them at a dealer’s, I guess. But it didn’t make us feel good to know that our computers were being used to target nuclear weapons in Europe. The only bright side of it was that at least they weren’t [Radio Shack] TRS-80s! Thank God for that.
The point is that tools are always going to be used for certain things we don’t find personally pleasing. And it’s ultimately the wisdom of people, not the tools themselves, that is going to determine whether or not these things are used in positive, productive ways.
On living life as an artist rather than a businessman
Jobs: … I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’ll always come back. And that’s what I may try to do. The key thing to remember about me is that I’m still a student. I’m still in boot camp. If anyone is reading any of my thoughts, I’d keep that in mind. Don’t take it all too seriously. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. What are we, anyway? Most of what we think we are is just a collection of likes and dislikes, habits, patterns. At the core of what we are is our values, and what decisions and actions we make reflect those values. That is why it’s hard doing interviews and being visible: As you are growing and changing, the more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you that it thinks you are, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to go, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.
Playboy: What does the money actually mean to you?
Jobs: I still don’t understand it. It’s a large responsibility to have more than you can spend in your lifetime–and I feel I have to spend it. If you die, you certainly don’t want to leave a large amount to your children. It will just ruin their lives. And if you die without kids, it will all go to the Government. Almost everyone would think that he could invest the money back into humanity in a much more astute way than the Government could. The challenges are to figure out how to live with it and to reinvest it back into the world, which means either giving it away or using it to express your concerns or values.
Playboy: So what do you do?
Jobs: That’s a part of my life that I like to keep private. When I have some time, I’m going to start a public foundation. I do some things privately now.
Playboy: You could spend all of your time disbursing your money.
Jobs: Oh, you have to. I’m convinced that to give away a dollar effectively is harder than to make a dollar.
On turning 30
Playboy: Do you know what you want to do with the rest of this lifetime?
Jobs: There’s an old Hindu saying that comes into my mind occasionally: “For the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you.” As I’m going to be 30 in February, the thought has crossed my mind.