computers. He thought that what was then called the “information highway” would be primarily
of interest to businesses. He dismissed the idea that computer networks would carry lots of video.
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, i Tunes, 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.
Jobs had learned how to treat talent at Pixar; he spoke to me about his colleagues there differently
from the way he discussed his NeXT coworkers. When he returned to Apple, he often described his
very top management team in the same warm terms, with the occasional notable exception. As he
had with animators and programmers at Pixar, he integrated designers and technologists at Apple.
He cultivated a team he could count on, including the great designer Jonathan Ive, who is to Apple
what Lasseter is to Pixar. “We’ve done so many hardware products where Jony and I have looked at
each other and said, ‘We don’t know how to make it any better than this, we just don’t know how to
make it,’” Jobs told me. “But we always do; we realize another way. And then it’s not long after the
new thing comes out that we look at the older thing and go, ‘How can we ever have done that?’”
When I listened to this quote again last month, I was struck by something else in it: the com-
bination of adaptability and intuition that proved so critical to Apple’s rise. Jobs may have been
impulsive at times, but he was always methodical. This kind of nature suited an autodidact with
eclectic tastes, empowering him either to obsess impatiently about a pressing problem that had
to be dealt with immediately—much like an engineer—or else to let an idea steep and incubate
until he got it right. This is why Jobs was so often right on the big picture, even when he got the
details wrong. Open salaries was a dumb detail of the Open Corporation, but its core idea, of a
workplace where every single person understands the company’s goals, is something that most
organizations get wrong and that Apple has gotten so right for well over a decade. If Jobs was ini-
tially wrong about Apple getting into phones and handheld devices, he was right on about the big
idea of the computer at the center of a whirling digital universe. Hence Apple’s ability to deliver a
great i Tunes store after the iPod, even though it was never planned. Hence the great iPhone, despite
Jobs’s dismissal of “Swiss Army knife” digital devices.
There was one other big lesson he learned from his Hollywood adventure: People remember
stories more than products. “The technology we’ve been laboring on over the past 20 years becomes
part of the sedimentary layer,” he told me once. “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.”
Once he realized he really was going to die, Jobs quietly began to think more seriously about
the story of his own life and creations. At his memorial service, Laurene remarked that what
struck her most upon really getting to know him was his “fully formed aesthetic sense.” He knew
exactly what he liked, and he analyzed it until he could tell you precisely why. Jobs always felt that
architecture could be a truly lasting expression of one’s aesthetic, reaching beyond the limits of
one’s lifetime. It wasn’t incidental, then, that his last public appearance was at a Cupertino City
Council meeting to unveil the breathtaking four-story, doughnut-shaped “mother ship” that’s
nearly a half-mile in diameter and that will one day become Apple’s headquarters.
Of course, Jobs wanted his own official story to measure up. So he enlisted Walter Isaacson—
creator of a virtual Mount Rushmore of best-selling biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert
Einstein, and Henry Kissinger—to tell his tale. Like those giants, Jobs is a man whose history will
be told many a time, with fresh insights and new reporting. In the retelling, it may well be that the
lessons from his “lost” years in the “wilderness” are the ones that will prove most inspiring.
BUILDING A COMPANY IS A MARATHON JUNE 1995
Pixar has been a marathon, not
a sprint. There are times when
you run a marathon and you
wonder, Why am I doing this? But
you take a drink of water, and
around the next bend, you get
your wind back, remember the
finish line, and keep going.
Fortunately, my training has
been in doing things that take a
long time. You know? I was at
Apple 10 years. I would have
preferred to be there the rest of
my life. So I’m a long-term kind of
person. I have been trained to
think in units of time that are
measured in several years. With
what I’ve chosen to do with my
life, you know, even a small thing
takes a few years. To do anything
of magnitude takes at least five
years, more likely seven or eight.
Rightfully or wrongfully, that’s
how I think.
Brent Schlender is an award-winning journalist who covered technology and business for Fortune
and The Wall Street Journal.