Steve Jobs 1985 Playboy interview re-surfaces

26 Nov 2010 | in Steve Jobs history, Steve Jobs personality

Most of you have already heard of it, but Playboy recently re-published their 1985 interview with Steve Jobs on their website. I had read lots of excerpts from the piece for some time, since it is abundantly quoted in Jeffrey S. Young’s The Journey Is The Reward as well as Leander Kahney’s Inside Steve’s Brain… but I had yet to read it in its entirety.

It is a fascinating read to say the least. The conclusion is not a surprise for me, just a confirmation: despite popular belief, Steve Jobs hasn’t changed much in all these years. I have gathered my favorite quotes from the interview to prove it:

In their foreword, Playboy makes a pretty accurate description of young Steve, which is just as true for old Steve (try replacing IBM by Google in the quote below):

But to hear Jobs tell it, the money isn’t even half the story, especially since he does not spend it very lavishly—and, indeed, claims to have very little time for social life. He is on a mission, preaching the Gospel of salvation through the personal computer—preferably one manufactured by Apple. He is an engaging pitchman and never loses an opportunity to sell his products…

Unable to relent in his mission to spread the Apple word, he talked with solemn ferocity about the war with IBM—but then would punctuate his enthusiasm for an idea with ‘Neat!’ or ‘Incredibly great!’

Once the interview starts, you can read that some ideas that Steve had at 30 are still deeply ingrained in him today:

1. Making technology accessible to anybody:

That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t have to understand how computers work.

2. The tools metaphor

A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go.

The tools metaphor is pretty interesting, because it was first used in an Apple PR campaign before Apple’s IPO. I refer to it in the Long Bio on all about Steve Jobs.com (“the biggest IPO since Ford”). You can see Steve using it again in this late 1980s video from the NeXT era. It’s doubtful Steve initiated it — it was a PR scheme — but he has used it for years, and still does today. It’s become his best paradigm to describe what his machines do.

3. Apple is for the people, not for businesses

We expressed very high hopes for Lisa and we were wrong. The hardest thing for us was that we knew Macintosh was coming, and Macintosh seemed to overcome every possible objection to Lisa. As a company, we would be getting back to our roots—selling computers to people, not corporations. We went off and built the most insanely great computer in the world.

4. Steve Jobs, a “one-man focus group”

It’s a well-known fact among Apple insiders that the fruit company does not rely on market research or focus groups to design their products. They rely almost exclusively on Steve himself (and the design & senior staff) for assessing a product’s quality. that was already true in 1985:

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.

5. Changing the world

Steve plays modest and avoids mentioning his desire to change the world in current interviews. He wasn’t that humble in the 1980s, which helps clarify what his true opinion probably really is:

We are aware that we are doing something significant. We’re here at the beginning of it and we’re able to shape how it goes. Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future. Most of the time, we’re taking things. Neither you nor I made the clothes we wear; we don’t make the food or grow the foods we eat; we use a language that was developed by other people; we use another society’s mathematics. Very rarely do we get a chance to put something back into that pool. I think we have that opportunity now. And no, we don’t know where it will lead. We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here.

6. Products, products, products

We’ve never worried about numbers. In the market place, Apple is trying to focus the spotlight on products, because products really make a difference.

7. His own future

Below, Steve somehow talks of leaving Apple and coming back, “hibernating” like an artist… it’s pretty funny, because that’s what actually happened when he was in the wilderness. But he certainly had not planned it!

JOBS: And I’m not sure. 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.

Finally, this last quote is about his retirement… in the early 1990s 🙂 It’s fair to say that Steve’s opinion of older people has evolved in 25 years.

It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.
(…)
I think an interesting challenge in this area of intellectual inquiry is to grow obsolete gracefully, in the sense that things are changing so fast that certainly by the end of the Eighties, we really want to turn over the reins to the next generation, whose fundamental perceptions are state-of-the-art perceptions, so that they can go on, stand on our shoulders and go much further. It’s a very interesting challenge, isn’t it? How to grow obsolete with grace.

Please, Steve, don’t grow obsolete too soon!

As a side note, I’d like to point out that Steve already used “we” when he meant “I” at the time:

PLAYBOY: We were warned about you: Before this Interview began, someone said we were “about to be snowed by the best.”

JOBS: [Smiling] We’re just enthusiastic about what we do.

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