Emerging Technology

“Good management is like the Beatles” – five of the best lessons from Steve Jobs’ lost interviews

Patrick Stafford /

Six months after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ death, new interviews have been revealed that present several years’ worth of interviews during the time when he was shunned out of Apple, and yet still returned to the company he helped create.

Reporter Brent Schlender spoke with Jobs on a number of occasions, and has now uncovered a series of interviews during that time revealing comments that have never before been aired. Some had never even been replayed or transcribed.

As Schlender points out, Jobs matured during this time to become a better manager and boss, and “found a way to turn his native stubbornness into a productive perseverance”.

“Perhaps most importantly, he developed an astonishing adaptability that was critical to the hit-after-hit-after-hit climb of Apple’s last decade. All this, during a time many remember as his most disappointing.”

The piece reveals some great comments from Jobs about Apple’s slump in the mid-1990s, the rising success of Pixar and working with his industrial designer, Jony Ive – who many consider to be Apple’s most valuable employee.

Here are five of the best comments from these newly revealed tapes:

1. The differences between Hollywood and Silicon Valley

Jobs left Apple and started Pixar – but he had to learn some new skills making films rather than technology.

“Hollywood and Silicon Valley are like two ships passing in the night. They are not trading passengers. They speak a different jargon; they have grown up with completely different models for how to grow a business, for how to attract and retain employees, for everything.”

“They’ve grown up with completely different role models, and so the people think entirely differently. I mean, when you’re in Silicon Valley, you don’t have to explain Silicon Valley to anyone else because everybody’s here and understands it. And the same is evidently true of Hollywood – neither side can explain themselves to the other very well at all.”

2. The secret to hiring great people

Jobs is known for being a stubborn and demanding boss. But here he explains his mentality behind the hiring process in getting the best people.

“In most businesses, the difference between average and good is at best two to one, right? Like, if you go to New York and you get the best cab driver in the city, you might get there 30% faster than with an average taxicab driver. A two to one gain would be pretty big.”

“The difference between the best worker on computer hardware and the average may be two to one, if you’re lucky. With automobiles, maybe two to one. But in software, it’s at least 25 to one. The difference between the average programmer and a great one is at least that.”

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world. And when you’re in a field where the dynamic range is 25 to one, boy, does it pay off.”

3. The future of music subscriptions

Jobs changed the music industry with iTunes, but he had some interesting thoughts before iTunes even existed on what consumers want to do with their music products:

“Nobody wants to subscribe to music. They’ve bought it for 50 years. They bought 45s, they bought LPs, they bought 8-tracks, they bought cassettes, they bought CDs. Why now do they want to start renting their music? People like to buy it and they like to do what they damn well please with it when they buy it.”

4. Why good management is like the Beatles

Jobs was a huge Beatles fan, and made it one of his tasks in life to get the band’s discography on iTunes. Here, he explains why his model of management takes after the famous band, with no employee allowing another to go off in a different direction.

“They sort of kept each other in check. And then when they split up, they never did anything as good. It was the chemistry of a small group of people, and that chemistry was greater than the sum of the parts.”

“And so John kept Paul from being a teenybopper and Paul kept John from drifting out into the cosmos, and it was magic. And George, in the end, I think provided a tremendous amount of soul to the group. I don’t know what Ringo did.”

5. Remembering stories, rather than products

Jobs learnt a lot working in films, but he also learned one key lesson – people remember stories, rather than individual products:

“The technology we’ve been laboring on over the past 20 years becomes part of the sedimentary layer… But when Snow White was re-released [on DVD, in 2001], we were one of the 28 million families that went out and bought a copy of it. This was a film that is 60-years-old, and my son was watching it and loving it. I don’t think anybody’s going to be beating on a Macintosh 60 years from now.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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