The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Part Five

This is Part Five of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” by Mike Daisey, the 2011 Trading 8s “Journalist of the Year”.

==========

5. “Change the World”
by Mike Daisey

Xerox PARC is a think tank, and as a think tank, it’s a place where ideas go to die. Because for an idea to thrive, it needs to be transmitted from person to person—you keep ideas locked up, it’s like fish in a fish tank—they don’t fucking like it.

And at Xerox PARC, they had some amazing ideas, they just didn’t know what the fuck to do with them. They’d be like, “Oh my god, that’s amazing, this thing you’ve made! You know what you should do with this? You should take this thing and you should put it IN THAT CLOSET OVER THERE.”

And before long, they filled up all their closets and they still didn’t know what the fuck to do. So they started having open houses and they would invite everyone in Silicon Valley and be like,

“Hey, open house at our place this weekend! We got some crazy shit up in here! Also…there will be Doritos!”

And people came, and people from Apple came, and they saw something in one of those closets that blew their minds, and they went back to Steve Jobs and they said, “Steve, Steve. You gotta go to Xerox PARC, you gotta see this thing we saw,” and Steve Jobs said, “No.”

Because one of the ways Steve Jobs organized the universe is he divided everyone in the universe into Geniuses and Bozos—and there are only a few Geniuses and there’s a FUCKLOAD of Bozos. And everyone who’s making this suggestion was, currently, a Bozo.

So it takes a while until someone who is currently a Genius says, “Seriously, Steve. You really need to go to Xerox PARC, you really need to see this thing.” At which point Steve Jobs says,

“I’ve had an idea.

I think we should go to Xerox PARC.

I think something may be happening there.”

And what they saw in that room will not seem amazing to you because you live in the world that came after. But I would ask you tonight to try—try to see it the way they saw it, try to see it with fresh eyes.

They walk into a room, there’s a computer there, it looks normal, it’s off. There is one new thing: there’s this box there with a cord coming out of it? They call it a mouse.

That’s not the crazy part.

The crazy part is when they turn that computer on—because before this moment, the dominant metaphor in computing was that a computer was, fundamentally, an electronic typewriter.

People didn’t think about that very often because sometimes it’s hard to see the metaphor you’re embedded in from inside of it, but fundamentally, every computer was a typewriter that happened to be electronic. Until now.

They turn on this computer and…ahhhh,

It’s not a fucking typewriter.

Instead, on the screen, there are windows…and a cursor

And it is an amazing thing, to be there at the moment when the metaphor shifts. Those of you out there in the darkness who love technology the way that I do, you know what I’m talking about: that moment when you can feel the ground going out beneath your feet, when you know you will never see things the same way again.

And Steve Jobs leaves that room a changed man, and he goes back to Apple and he starts putting together a team, Ocean’s Eleven-style.

He starts stealing people from all these different groups, all the freaks and weirdos and misfits, all the very best people from all these different groups—he steals them and he puts all the weirdos together in a secret base. He rents this building away from the rest of Apple’s campus—no one knows what the fuck is going on in there—he puts the weirdos in the secret base and then he decides secrecy is overrated and he puts a pirate flag ON TOP of the secret base, as if to say,

<<in the manner of a serious pirate>>

“ARRRRRRRRRR!, fuck all y’all, ARRRRRRRRR!”

And he tells them, “Your job is to destroy Apple. Your job is to destroy the Apple that exists today.”

And he is serious.

Because Steve Jobs was always the enemy of nostalgia. He understood that the future requires sacrifice. Steve Jobs was never afraid to knife the baby.

I’ll give you an example. A couple years ago, Apple’s best-selling product—best-selling!—was the iPod Mini. It was awesome—it was an iPod, but it was mini! Everybody loved the iPod Mini.

And one day, Steve Jobs is making one of his fabulous keynotes and he’s saying,

“Today…the iPod Mini…is…no more.”

And it was like, <<in the pleading manner of a bereft, Gollum-esque consumer>> “NOOOO! Don’t hurts us, Steve! Don’t takes it away, we’ll be good…”

<<back as Steve again>> “Instead…we give you…the iPod Nano.” <<Gollum doesn’t know what to think, looks back and forth between the Mini and the Nano, then suddenly bursts into crazy-delighted applause>> “YAYYYY! Nano is smaller than Mini! YAYYYY! It’s exactly what I wanted! I’m going to lose it even faster now!”

Everyone’s delighted, and Steve flies away in his black helicopter, and the tech press is jizzing on themselves…it’s a magical day.

And later, people are talking to the Apple reps, and they’re saying, “My god, the iPod Nano is smaller, and it’s thinner, and it holds even more songs than the iPod Mini!” And the Apple people say, “Errrrrr—actually…it doesn’t hold more songs.”

And they say, “Oh. Well, you know, it’s smaller, and it’s thinner, and it holds just as many songs as the iPod Mini!”

And the Apple reps say, “Errrrr…actually…it’s a lot less.”

And people said, “Oh. Well that sucks.

…hey, can I still get an iPod Mini?”

NO! They’ve been pulled from the stores that very day, you cannot have one for love or money—you will have an iPod Nano, and you will fucking like it!

Now, I ask you: Can you think of any other company, in the world, that behaves anything like this?

That would take their best-selling product, pull it from the stores overnight, replacing it with a new product that is more technically advanced but does half as much…and when people complain about this, they are told, vigorously, to fuck themselves.

I’m saying it’s kind of radical.

And so Steve Jobs is serious when he’s telling them he wants them to destroy Apple—the Apple of that time is built on the Apple II platform, their entire empire is built on that, and he’s saying,

“No, don’t be compatible with that, fuck that shit! Shove it off the table!, MAKE something NEW.”

And these are the people that create the Macintosh.

And in 1984, the Mac is born. It goes on to be the dominant computer of its generation. Never in market share—the Mac never dominates in market share—instead, the Mac dominates in mind share.

Over time, every computer that is not a Mac evolves until it looks and thinks and works like a Mac. It’s a mind virus that spreads absolutely everywhere.

My favorite Mac was the Macintosh SE/30. I never owned one, but they had one at the security office where I did work-study in college and I would sign up for overnight shifts so I could spend more time with the SE/30.

It was a wonderful machine. It had the form factor of the original Macintosh, so if you were seated at it, if you squinted, it looked like a little anthropomorphic human face staring back at you. And I would type into its tiny gray-scale screen…it was the first computer I used regularly that had real networking and I would telnet out from it to repositories of information around the world; I would post to bulletin boards and people in other cities—other countries!— would post back, and we would talk about the future…and how in the future, this “web” that was just starting now, it would grow and grow until one day…it would touch everyone, everywhere and when that happened…information would be free. And people everywhere would be free.

We were very young.

But we could have been right.

<<pause>>

And Steve Jobs was many things, but he was two things above all others, inextractably welded together: He was a

<<left hand>> visionary

<<right hand>> asshole.

And you cannot have one without the other: the two things speak to one another. He was an impossible manager. I would not wish on my worst enemy to be personally managed by Steve Jobs. He was not a micro-manager, he was a nano-manager—he would climb into the bodies of his subordinates and try to move them around with his mind.

The head of the Macintosh project, when asked for public comment on Steve Jobs’ management style, the only thing he would ever say publicly was this:

“He would make a most excellent King of France.”

But you have to admit it’s working for him. It is! The only people who are just a little tired of this bullshit is Apple’s board of directors; they’re just a little tired of it. They’re like, “Oh my god. I KNOW he’s a fucking genius, I just wish sometimes at meetings that he would stop cursing at us, and I just wish sometimes at those meetings that he would wear shoes.”

And so they came up with an idea, they thought, You know, what if we had someone next to Steve, you know, someone who’s a little older, someone who doesn’t freak the investors out so much, somebody who looks good in a suit…somebody who wears shoes.

And so they convince Steve to do this, and so Steve and the board go out looking for someone, and who they find is Scully.

And Scully was at Pepsi, and Scully didn’t know fuck-all about computers, but he did look great in a suit.

And so Jobs goes to Scully and says, “Come. Join me at Apple.”

And Scully says,

<<in the manner of a recalcitrant Scully>>

“Errrr, I don’t know…I don’t know about the clicky-clicky-clicky, I don’t know…”

And Jobs says, “What? Do you want to sell fucking sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to CHANGE THE WORLD?!” and he looks at him with Steve Jobs’ Laser Death Vision—DA-DA-DDD-DA! DA-DA-DDD-DA! And Scully goes, “ACK! Change-the-world, change-the-WORLD—!” and he goes and he joins Jobs at Apple.

And everything is great.

For a while.

And you’ll find this a lot, in Steve Jobs stories. Things are always great!…for a while.

And then Scully makes the inevitable slide…from Genius to Bozo.

And Jobs realizes he needs to throw him out of the company, and Jobs stages a coup d’etat.

And the thing about staging a coup d’etat is that you really want to win.

Because if you don’t win, it is so…awkward. At the office the next day.

And the board backs Scully, and in short order, Jobs is thrown out of his own company. He’s a laughingstock in Silicon Valley—the metaphor had shifted right out from underneath him.

==========

Tomorrow: “Part Six: Where All Our Shit Is Made”