Make Something Wonderful

The Steve Jobs archive recently published Make Something Wonderful, a curated collection of Steve’s speeches, interviews, and correspondence. It’s an absolute treasure trove of insights into the thinking of a man who shaped the world through technology. I’ve collected some of my favorite quotes and excerpts here with the hope they might inspire you as much as they inspire me. Each quote is followed by a bullet point for context and some have a second bullet point for my own thoughts.

I would say that gave one several things. It gave one an understanding of what was inside a finished product and how it worked, because it would include a theory of operation. But maybe even more importantly, it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe.

  • On building Heathkits as a child. Heathkits were kits that came with a manual and all the parts necessary to assemble an electronic device like a radio or oscilloscope.

  • This quote really highlights the importance of hands-on learning to truly understand, and therefore have the belief that you can shape, the world around you.

I didn’t really realize how different California was than the middle of America, and even to some extent the East Coast, until I traveled to those places. I’d never been to any of those places until my early twenties. California has a sense of experimentation about it, and a sense of openness about it—openness and new possibility—that I really didn’t appreciate till I went to other places.

  • Steve reflecting on his return California after spending some time outside of it at Reed College

  • I think this was Steve realizing how unique California’s openness and free-spiritedness was compared to the rest of the country. The culture of Silicon Valley is to question the status quo, not to fit inside it, and that’s what Steve did with his products.

…and we had a common interest [in electronics] that sort of bound us together even though we were totally different in every other way possible.

We’re sort of like two planets in our own orbits that every so often intersect each other. There’s a bond there that will last as long as we both live.

  • Steve describing his relationship with Woz

  • From Steve and Woz’s relationship I’ve come to appreciate the importance of complementary skillsets. People argue over who deserves more credit for Apple’s early days, but the truth is Steve couldn’t have built Apple without Woz, and Woz couldn’t have built Apple without Steve. It truly was a one in a billion partnership. If you’re looking for a cofounder, don’t look for someone just like you, but rather someone who complements you.

We make what we think of as the Rolls-Royce of personal computers

  • Steve at the First Annual Personal Computer Expo held in the New York Coliseum
  • I think it’s obvious that one of the reasons Steve’s products were so successful is that he never settled for crap. By demanding perfection he was able to push people to do things they never thought possible.

If we take a look, we’re going to sell 3 million computers this year, 10 million in ’86, whether they look like a piece of shit or they look great. People are just going to suck this stuff up so fast no matter what it looks like. And it doesn’t cost any more money to make them look great. They are going to be these new objects that are going to be in everyone’s working environment, everyone’s educational environment, and everyone’s home environment. We have a shot [at] putting a great object there—and if we don’t, we’re going to put one more piece-of-junk object there.

  • At the International Design Conference in Aspen telling an audience of designers the importance of a well-designed personal computer
  • It was a common theme of his that “getting the job done” was insufficient for a great product. In addition to having great functionality, it had to look and feel like it was great.

The problem was, you can’t ask Aristotle a question. And I think, as we look towards the next fifty to one hundred years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit, or an underlying set of principles, or an underlying way of looking at the world, then, when the next Aristotle comes around, maybe if he carries around one of these machines with him his whole life—his or her whole life—and types in all this stuff, then maybe someday, after this person’s dead and gone, we can ask this machine, “Hey, what would Aristotle have said?”

  • From the same speech at the international design conference.
  • This excerpt is Steve as “visionary”, where he demonstrates incredible foresight into the future of technology. His AI prediction feels extremely relevant today, when AI is powerful enough to generate a ficticious JRE podcast episode with Sam Altman. Steve predicted this back in the 80’s with no mention of the term “artificial intelligence”.

We [at Apple] feel that, for some crazy reason, we’re in the right place at the right time to put something back. And what I mean by that is, most of us didn’t make the clothes we’re wearing, and we didn’t cook or grow the food that we eat, and we’re speaking a language that was developed by other people, and we use a mathematics that was developed by other people. We are constantly taking.

And the ability to put something back into the pool of human experience is extremely neat. I think that everyone knows that in the next ten years we have the chance to really do that. And we [will] look back—and while we’re doing it, it’s pretty fun, too—we will look back and say, “God, we were a part of that!”

  • On “putting something back” into the universe
  • I think the main driver of his entire life was the desire in his bones to contribute to give something back to his fellow man, by making an impact in the world, by creating a “ripple in the universe”.

I don’t think my taste in aesthetics is that much different than a lot of other people’s. The difference is that I just get to be really stubborn about making things as good as we all know they can be. That’s the only difference.

  • In an interview with Michael Moritz, talking about his design inspiration
  • As we already saw in another quote, he never settled for less than perfect. And the results speak for themselves.

if you’re going to make something, it doesn’t take any more energy—and rarely does it take more money—to make it really great. All it takes is a little more time. Not that much more. And a willingness to do so, a willingness to persevere until it’s really great.

  • Another quote from the Moritz interview

I personally, man, I want to build things. I’m thirty. I’m not ready to be an industry pundit. I got three offers to be a professor during this summer, and I told all of the universities that I thought I would be an awful professor. What I’m best at doing is finding a group of talented people and making things with them.

  • In an interview with Newsweek a couple of weeks after he was fired from Apple

Though the outside world looks at success from a numerical point of view, my yardstick might be quite different than that. My yardstick may be how every computer that’s designed from here on out will have to be at least as good as a Macintosh.

  • Also from the Newsweek interview

One of the things I always tried to coach myself on was not being afraid to fail. When you have something that doesn’t work out, a lot of times, people’s reaction is to get very protective about never wanting to fall on their face again. I think that’s a big mistake, because you never achieve what you want without falling on your face a few times in the process of getting there

  • In an interview with Terry Gross in 1996, looking back at his time at Apple
  • To learn and grow, you MUST embrace failure. There’s simply no other way. If you are afraid to fail then you’ll never get far in anything.

I would say Apple was a corporate lifestyle, but it had a few very big differences to other corporate lifestyles that I’d seen. The first one was a real belief that there wasn’t a hierarchy of ideas that mapped onto the hierarchy of the organization. In other words, great ideas could come from anywhere and that we better sort of treat people in a much more egalitarian sense, in terms of where the ideas came from.

And Apple was a very bottoms-up company when it came to a lot of its great ideas. And we hired truly great people and gave them the room to do great work. A lot of companies—I know it sounds crazy—but a lot of companies don’t do that. They hire people to tell them what to do. We hired people to tell us what to do.

  • On Apple’s corporate culture
  • How many other companies have a culture of hiring people to tell management what to do? The collaborative and inclusive work culture Steve created at Apple, a “meritocracy of ideas” his own words, was something unique.

Be aware of the world’s magical, mystical, and artistic sides. The most important things in life are not the goal-oriented, materialistic things that everyone and everything tries to convince you to strive for. Most of you know that deep inside

  • Part of his speech to the Palo Alto High School graduating class of 1996
  • A lot of people in Silicon Valley are engineers, and a lot of engineers scoff at the arts as a waste of time - I know this because I’m an engineer myself, and used to feel this way. But this quote serves as an important reminder that the most important things in life are often intangible and not tied to material success.

The only thing one can do is to believe that some of what you follow with your heart will indeed come back to make your life much richer.

  • From the Palo Alto High speech

Think of your life as a rainbow arcing across the horizon of this world. You appear, have a chance to blaze in the sky, then you disappear.

  • From the Palo Alto High speech
  • This is a beautiful metaphor for the transient nature of life and the short time we have on this planet to do something great and give back to fellow humans. This quote, combined with his quote that “… I’ll be dead soon”, are extremely powerful calls to action

You’d better have great people, or you won’t get your product to market as fast as possible. Or you might get a product to market really fast, but it will be really clunky and nobody will buy it. There are no shortcuts around quality, and quality starts with people.

  • On the necessity of needing great people at your company, during his interview for In the Company of Giants
  • He considered recruiting to be his most important responsibility. When you find the best people in the world, and put them together, you can more or less stay out of the way and trust them to produce incredible things.

The Macintosh team, if you talk to most of them—a dozen years since we shipped the product—most will still say that working on the Mac was the most meaningful experience of their lives. If we’d never shipped a product they wouldn’t say that. If the product hadn’t been so good they wouldn’t say that. The Macintosh experience wasn’t just about going to camp with a bunch of fun people. It wasn’t just a motivational speaker. It was the product that everybody put their heart and soul into, and it was the product that expressed their deep appreciation, somehow, for the world to see.

  • Reflecting on the team that built the Macintosh and bringing out the best work in people, same interview.
  • I think the Macintosh team is strong evidence that no team is going to ship a great product unless they have true passion and pride in their work. Steve remarked in one interview that he believed the members of the Macintosh team would have been artists, poets, and writers in another life.

So this is one of those cases where, when you hire the right people, they don’t always listen to you in key moments in time. So this person, being very smart, didn’t listen to me. And he went over and talked to Apple and said, “You ought to buy NeXT.” And they were interested.

  • When a NeXT employee suggested they approach Apple to be acquired, Steve rejected the idea by saying “Forget it. It will never happen”. The NeXT employee approached Apple anyway.
  • Yet more evidence for the importance of hiring great people who are able to persist on their ideas even in the face of rejection.

And … I have to be careful what I say here. Let me just say that you need a license to drive a car, but you don’t need a license to be the CEO of a company. And maybe you should need one.

  • In reference to the CEO of Apple at the time they bought NeXT

Well, it’s optimism and passion, because it’s really hard. And if you don’t really, really care about what you’re doing, you’re gonna give up if you’re a sane person—because it’s just super hard. I’m sure it was extremely hard for him at times.

  • In response to Bob Noyce’s (founder of Intel) quote “optimism is the essential ingredient for innovation”

The most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices is to remember that I’ll be dead soon

  • Part of his commencement speech to the Stanford Graduating Class of 2005
  • This is one of the most important ones to me. In the face of your own mortality it’s impossible to justify not making bold choices or not pursuing your passions. Our time is incredibly limited, so prioritize what matters to you and take risks. We’ll all be dead soon.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish

  • Same commencement speech
Written on April 22, 2023