How Steve Jobs unwound by looking at future Apple products

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Steve Jobs only turned off his phone while hanging out with Apple design chief Jony Ive.
Steve Jobs only turned off his phone while hanging out with Apple design chief Jony Ive.
Photo: Ben Stanfield/Flickr CC

Steve Jobs didn’t turn off his phone often. But if he did, it probably meant that he was in Jony Ive’s Industrial Design department, where Jobs relaxed by scouring prototypes of future Apple products.

That’s according to Jobs’ former assistant, Naz Beheshti, in a new book titled Pause. Breathe. Choose: Become the CEO of Your Well-Being. While the book focuses mainly on Beheshti’s practice as a wellness coach, it includes a few memories of her time at Apple. Including how Apple staffers would go into meltdown when they couldn’t reach Jobs — and how they eventually figured out where this meant he was.

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Jobs relaxed with his ‘toys’

Beheshti writes:

“I quickly discovered what playtime looked like for Steve Jobs, and how it was one of the keys to his success as a great innovator. Whenever someone was looking for Steve, or whenever he could not be reached on the phone, there was only one place he would almost unerringly be found: in the office of Jony Ive, Apple’s former chief of design officer.”

The Apple co-founder apparently found relaxation in looking at Ive’s mockups and models, which Jobs referred to as his “toys.” This was apparently the only place where Jobs would turn off his phone. The book continues:

“We would lose our minds trying to get in touch with him, trying to get him to his meetings. At some point, we would have to call Jony’s office and enlist his help in dragging Steve away from his playtime…. His time with Jony gave him the space and occasion to laugh, imagine, create, and feel a renewed sense of freedom.”

In an interview with CNBC, published over the weekend, Beheshti tells how Jobs maintained a work-life balance:

“There has been a big misconception about him that he was a workaholic and that he was really tough to work with. Yes, in some cases he was … [but he also] meditated daily, he had regular physical activity like exercise several times a week and he maintained strong relationships.”

Tracking down Steve Jobs

The idea of Apple employees going crazy trying to track down Jobs is certainly amusing. Jobs was known for micromanaging Apple employees. So it’s likely that plenty couldn’t happen — even down to PR quotes being sent out — without his sign-off. Jobs’ tendency to turn his phone off only when in Ive’s workplace also highlights just how significant these visits were to him.

Plenty of Apple employees over the years have told me about Jobs’ habit — particularly when younger — of phoning them in the middle of the night to discuss what seemed like a non-essential question. For Jobs to make himself unavailable to everyone else, during a work day, while with Ive shows how comfortable he felt around the designer.

While it’s fully understandable that Jobs’ wouldn’t want his “downtime” recorded, it’s a real shame it didn’t happen from a historical perspective. Imagine how fascinating it would be to see Jobs and Ive poring over a pre-release iPhone prototype. (With panicked Apple employees desperately ringing the Industrial Design lab in the background, of course.)

According to Beheshti’s LinkedIn profile, whe worked as an executive assistant to Jobs from 1999 through 2000. That was the period following the iMac G3, prior to the iPod.