orgtheory puzzle: steve jobs 1 vs. steve jobs 2

There is one part of the Apple story that has always puzzled me: what was the difference between Steve Jobs pre-NeXT and post-NeXT? For those who aren’t Appleologists, Steve Jobs was booted from Apple in 1985. He ran a company called NeXT and founded Pixar. NeXT flopped but Pixar succeeded. About ten years later, in 1996, Jobs returned to Apple and steered it into the forefront of computing.

Here’s the thing that puzzled me: What happened in those years? What did he learn or do differently upon his return? I read the Walter Isaacson biography. It is heavy on detail, but light on analysis. You don’t quite understand how he changed in a way that allowed him to reach new heights or resolve old problems. Here are my hypotheses:

  1. Steve was a little older and a little wiser. He also had more practice from running these two firms which gave him the ability to be more innovative upon returning to Apple. In other words, practice makes perfect. Old people mellow. he worked better with others.
  2. Nothing changed. Same Steve, but the big difference is that he was completely control of Apple. In Steve Jobs 1, he had other founders to deal with and a board that reflected different groups of stakeholders. In Steve Jobs 2, all the founders were gone and he fired all board members not aligned with him. Thus, his fights with people didn’t undermine the company in the same way Steve Jobs 1 almost ruined Apple. In other words, Apple 1 was a divided firm with different stakeholders and Jobs was not an optimal CEO for such a firm. Apple 2 was built around Jobs and he excelled in that type of environment.

The main evidence for #1 is that he learned a lot from running NeXT that allowed the later Macs to be very successful and his media experience was directly leveraged into the iTunes project. The evidence for #2 is simply that that there is no evidence that Jobs changed as a manager at all over his whole life. The brilliant, but insane, guy you get at Reed in the 1970s is the same guy you get in the 2000s. Your opinion? Show me your work!

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Written by fabiorojas

May 5, 2015 at 12:01 am

5 Responses

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  1. Becoming Steve Jobs, which came out a few months ago, tackles this issue. I haven’t read it but the authors reportedly argue that Jobs’s exposure to John Lasseter and others at Pixar taught him the importance of working with a team (so essentially the opposite of #2). Some reviewers have wondered, though, whether the authors chose this narrative before conducting their interviews and then chose the statements that supported it and ignored those that did not.



    May 5, 2015 at 2:19 am

  2. Another supporting piece of evidence would be Jobs running teams differently in 2.0. Any evidence of that?



    May 5, 2015 at 2:28 am

  3. I’d say there was nothing different about Jobs, it was the environment that changed. Apple’s greatest capability has always been integration of hardware and software in a beautiful package. In the 80s and 90s, the most important capability was being able to make modular computers cheaply, as computers were very expensive. Dell was great at this. Apple was not.

    In the 21st century, MP3 players came around, where modular design is not an important capability, but integration of hardware and software in a beautiful package was very important. Apple was back, and Dell was left
    behind. This capability is also vital in smartphones. PCs became generally cheaper, and a Mac didn’t seem so expensive compared to a PC anymore.


    Ty Mackey

    May 5, 2015 at 4:25 am

  4. NeXT and Pixar provided different lessons. NexT was all about hardware and had no ecosystem. Pixar was a mixture of hardware (toys), software, and entertainment — with an attendant ecosystem of creative types, toymakers and software types. When Jobs repatriates to Apple, the ecosystem is developed for entertainment, toys, and software, including external app-writers. Apple may not have been the first mover in entertainment (esp. music), but iTunes inoculated the ecosystem.



    May 5, 2015 at 1:14 pm

  5. Here are a few places where people criticize the new book:

    It appears that Apple is pretty protective of its internal processes, so it may be a long time before people really know how much difference there was. Maybe the fact that Jobs had actually failed a few times before his return changed his approach. Or maybe it was just that the people around him were better, since Apple’s fortunes might have been very different without Jony Ive to design beautiful things and Tim Cook to ensure that they were profitable.



    May 5, 2015 at 1:33 pm

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