Apple WWDC ‘97 Closing Keynote
I come back to this video frequently. There is a lot to love about it. It’s Jobs, so it’s even obvious to just talk about it. But it’s still an amazing video to watch.
Steve thinks about every question before he begins speaking. He takes some punishing words. He speaks clearly. He also expresses his opinion in no uncertain terms with expressions like, “I thought it was a piece of junk.”
The video takes place in 1997, but he’s speaking about technology the way everyone speaks about it today. Perhaps, like writing about Jobs itself, this is one of those statements that is so obvious it feels ridiculous to say it. It’s just never lost on me how powerful his ideas were and how strongly he stuck to them.
They weren’t free of criticism. In fact, all the questions asked are intensely passionate and sometimes highly critical, but he doesn’t back away. He wants someone to blow his mind and show him something new. By nature of who he is, he arrived at his own opinions via constant work, so it’s not trivial for anyone to say something new to him, yet he’s still looking for it.
Along those lines, Steve is critical of everyone else too. He describes the process of stopping a product’s development as putting a bullet in [it’s] head. He speaks explicitly about how other companies are awful. And he speaks specifically about how he’d do things differently from the people running his company! He wasn’t CEO at the time, so he was simply undermining the management and converting the staff into people that would follow his lead. By choice, no less.
There is a subtler point I connect with in his representation of Apple. He talks about how important it is for his teams to be incredible. He talks about the people he believes in. He calls them strong. He says he has a lot of confidence in them. He trusts them. It’s wonderful to hear him say it. He’s known for being extremely critical, but he’s telling all the folks who help him that they’re so damn good. That’s a powerful motivator.
When is the last time you told someone you work with that you think they’re fucking awesome? If you believe someone is awesome, you should tell them.
If we consider the idea of being hyper critical while also being willing to tell the great people how great they are, you end up somewhere with people who are great and think similar to you. What a powerful strategy for finding great people.
The risk of taking such a strong stance is that it might be wrong. It might be obvious. It’s almost definitely uncertain and unproven.
It’s hard to have a clear path towards anything in a fast moving company, so Steve figures the idea is to get everyone on board with the mission. He wants to build great stuff. That part is clear. But look how he answers basically every question from this perspective. If something isn’t a great product, well, go fix it! Apple only builds really great products.
He mentions Jon Rubinstein, who led hardware at the top of Apple. And when he talks about Jon’s goals he says, “he wants to build some really kick-ass stuff!” Jon’s motives are to build really great products too. The hardware isn’t kick-ass yet, so Steve just asserts, “we’re gonna get it there.”
Everyone in the company wants to build really great products. That’s it. Top to bottom. Everyone in the company wants to build really great products.