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We just read the best story/analysis of Steve Jobs’ success in his second stint at Apple at Fast Company.Journalist Brent Schlender, who was close with Jobs (“We were iChat buddies for several years), writes that Apple’s unprecedented run of great products can be tied directly to Jobs’ time at Pixar.
Schlender recently found hours of old tapes of interviews he did with Jobs during the “wilderness” years of the 1990’s when when Jobs was at NeXT and Pixar.
After listening to those tapes, and reflecting on the conversations, Schlender managed to answer one of the most interesting questions about Steve Jobs: How did he go from the brilliant, but childish, genius at Apple in the eighties to the visionary who delivered the iPod, iTunes, iMac, iPhone, and iPad?
Walter Isaacson’s 656 page biography failed to answer that question. We once saw Isaacson speak and asked him the question, but his answer was a let down. We don’t even remember it, just the feeling that he hadn’t answered the question.
Schlender convincingly answers the question, and says it comes down to Jobs’ time spent at Pixar, as well as the fact that he got married, had kids and settled down.
On the latter, he writes, “His personality didn’t change overnight after meeting [his wife,] Laurene, but his selfish ways did begin to moderate, especially after his children, Reed, Erin, and Eve, came into the family in 1991, 1995, and 1998, respectively.”
At Pixar, he learned how to nurture talent, tell a story, negotiate with big media companies, and focus on building one hit product after another.
It’s somewhat ironic that Pixar, not NeXT, was really the most important company to Jobs’ development. NeXT was supposed to be his way of exacting revenge on Apple. After all, NeXT was a computer company.
But, NeXT was a “a travail of spite and malice,” whereas Pixar was a “labour of love,” says Schlender. NeXT never worked out, perhaps because Jobs was operating from the wrong mind frame. Pixar, which was his side project quietly blossomed, and Jobs learned much more because of it.
Here’s the nut of the story, as well as the most interesting parallel between Pixar and Apple:
But some of the tougher years at NeXT and Pixar had taught him how to stretch a company’s finances, which helped him ride out his first couple of years back, when Apple was still reliant on a weak jumble of offerings. With newfound discipline, he quickly streamlined the company’s product lines. And just as he had at Pixar, he aligned the company behind those projects. In a way that had never been done before at a technology company–but that looked a lot like an animation studio bent on delivering one great movie a year–Jobs created the organizational strength to deliver one hit after another, each an extension of Apple’s position as the consumer’s digital hub, each as strong as its predecessor. If there’s anything that parallels Apple’s decade-long string of hits–iMac, PowerBook, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, to list just the blockbusters–it’s Pixar’s string of winners, including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, and Up. These insanely great products could have come only from insanely great companies, and that’s what Jobs had learned to build.