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Great Steve Jobs Video (& Transcript) from 1990 on Continuous Improvement

Hat tip to Brent Brewington (@BrentBrewington) for sharing a link to this amazing video via Twitter.

Starting at about 7:54 into the video, Steve Jobs talks about continuous improvement. Here is a little more background about the video, shot in 1990, when Jobs was 35 years old and CEO of NeXT Computer.

I admit I was surprised by what I heard Jobs say. I have this mental image of him as a top-down, leader-as-expert genius who had little regard for front-line employees… but what he says in the video is golden.

Skip ahead to 7:54 if you are short on time, or the whole video is pretty interesting:

What Jobs says in that section of the video (for those who can’t watch at work)… with my comments in italics.

Steve: [7:55] In most companies, if you’re new and you ask, “Why is it done this way”? The answer is, “Because that’s the way we do it here,” or “Because that’s the way it’s always been done.” And in my opinion the largest contribution of much of this quality thinking is to approach these ways of doing things, these processes, scientifically, where there is a theory behind why we do them, there is a description of what we do, and most importantly, there is an opportunity to always question what we do.

What a timeless phrase that is, “we’ve always done it this way” and how powerful it is to challenge that. 

[8:28] And this is a radically different approach to business processes than the traditional one, “because it’s always done this way.” And that single shift is everything, in my opinion. Because in that shift is a tremendous, optimistic point of view about the people that work in a company. It says, “These people are very smart. They’re not pawns. They’re very smart. And if given the opportunity to change and improve, they will. They will improve the processes if there’s a mechanism for it.”

Listen to that again – people are smart. They’re not pawns. Given the chance to improve, they will. I couldn’t agree more. I really cringe when I hear leaders say things like, “People hate change.” No, they hate top-down solutions that are forced on them. Given a chance to identify problems and implement solutions, through a process like Kaizen, they’ll do it and they’ll be quite enthusiastic about it.

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[9:03] That optimistic humanism I find very appealing. I think we have countless examples that it works.

I love that phrase, “optimistic humanism.” I also have countless examples that this works (as Joe and I have documented in our books). As I was explaining to a client a few weeks ago (the medical chief of a institute in a well-known academic medical center), the reason we practice Kaizen is that we’re OPTIMISTIC that things can be improved and that people are creative. We don’t point out problems just to bitch and moan and complain… we do so because we believe we can make things better.

Interviewer: [9:16] Part of this way that this optimistic humanism is expressed in companies are the things to which the people who control corporations say yes, to requests and recommendations that are made to them. What kind of things are you saying yes to, here at NeXT, as a result of Dr. Juran’s teachings or exposure that you might never have said yes to before?

Steve: [9:40] Your question actually capsulizes what’s wrong. The whole philosophy behind these newer quality approaches is that people shouldn’t have to ask management permission to do something that needs to be approved. Authority should be vested in the people doing the work to improve their own processes, to teach them how to measure them, to understand them, and to improve them.

Amen to the idea that employees shouldn’t have to ask permission. They should have the right to improve their own work processes. This is a core component of the Lean and Kaizen mindsets. We can help people better understand their work (something I do as an outsider by teaching basic Lean principles). We can set goals as leaders, but let employees decide how to measure their progress and decide what improvements to make.

[10:08] And they should not have to ask for permission to improve their processes. A lot of the philosophy behind this quality stuff carries with it a flattening of the traditional hierarchical organization and a distribution of authority, to the people who are best in a position to decide what should happen to improve these processes, the people doing the work themselves. The permission that’s given because of this quality philosophy is the permission to not have to ask permission.

Again, I was really surprised that he said all this. Did his mindset change in the last 20+ years of his life? Was Apple managed like this, at all? Would the 2010 Steve Jobs have been surprised by what 1990 Steve Jobs said?

If you’d like to post a comment, scroll down beyond the transcript:

I had a transcript made from the video, which I’m happy to share below (with emphasis mine).

Full Transcript

Interviewer: [0:01] Steven or Steve?

Steve Jobs: [0:03] Doesn’t matter. Steven P. Jobs is fine. Steve Jobs is fine.

Interviewer: [0:07] And your [inaudible 00:10] ?

Steve: [0:14] President of NeXT Computer, Incorporated.

Interviewer: [0:16] What has your life come into contact with that of Dr. Joseph Juran’s?

Steve: [0:23] At NeXT, we decided to try to figure out what all this ballyhoo about quality was about, so we started looking into a lot of things — came in contact with a lot of people. Dr. Juran was one of the few people that I met that had a real down-to-earth approach to it, that didn’t think that quality was the second coming, but he approached it much more scientifically, and that resonated with the engineers and other technical people here at NeXT, as well as the executives.

[1:09] Dr. Juran’s visited us several times always wearing his characteristic bow tie. We’ve learned a lot from him.

Interviewer: [1:18] What are some of the things that you’ve found most valuable?

Steve: [1:25] The things that we’ve learned most from Dr. Juran are to look at everything as a repetitive process, and to instrument that process, and find out how it’s running. Then start to take it apart and re-put it back together in ways that dramatically improve its effectiveness in a very straight-forward way, no magic, no pep rallies.

[1:49] Just looking things directly in the eye, seeing them as repetitive processes, and re-engineering them. Most of the quality stuff, as I’ve understood it, is really a lot about re-engineering your repetitive processes to make them much, much more effective — combining them, eliminating some, strengthening others.

Interviewer: [2:09] It’s easy to see why broadcasters would want to do a program on Madonna or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why should the American people be interested in seeing a documentary on this old guy with a bow tie in Dr. Juran?

Steve: [2:38] America’s in a tough spot right now. We’ve forgotten the basics. We’re so prosperous for so long that we took too many things for granted and we forgot how much work it took to actually build and sustain those basic things that were supporting our prosperity. Things like a great education system, things like great industry.

[2:58] We are now faced with relearning those things, going back to the basics and relearning them. That’s why Dr. Juran is so valuable, because he is standing right on the basic heart of the matter of why we are being out-manufactured, why we are being out-planned by Japan.

[3:24] It is not because the Japanese are tricking us, it’s not because the Japanese are better intellectually. It’s because we are being out-planned, we are being out-strategized, we are being out-manufactured. There is nothing that can’t be fixed. But we’re not going to fix it up here. We’re going to fix it by getting back to the basics of what we need to do.

Interviewer: [3:50] There aren’t an awful lot of living legends around these days. When Joseph Juran walked in through these front doors, what struck you about Dr. Juran, the person?

Steve: [4:09] I had an opportunity to meet a few great people in my life and they all have had one characteristic in common, which is that they treat everyone the same, whether it’s the janitor or the president of the company, whether it’s the president of the United States or someone in a rural slum.

[4:30] They treat them exactly the same. If a question is asked, they will directly answer that question to the best of their ability. The look in their eyes is exactly the same and that was certainly true of Dr. Juran.

[4:42] Any question asked was the most important question that could have been asked at that moment as far as Dr. Juran was concerned. The caring and straightforwardness that he expressed toward every individual made a big impression on us.

[4:59] Of course, his awesome knowledge of the subject. But beyond his awesome knowledge of the subject, the way that he viewed people so optimistically that even the most foolish question was addressed with the greatest desire to transmit what he had learned in his life.

Interviewer: [5:19] Everybody now certainly uses quality, whether it’s in the advertising or in internal literature, American flag, Apple Pie, Motherhood [inaudible 05:32] . It’s almost the price of admission in lots of industries.

[5:32] And yet so many corporations, large businesses in particular, have such a hard time getting things moving, seeing results, getting people somehow facing the right direction. What holds them back, do you think?

Steve: [5:47] It’s funny. The group of people that do not use quality in their marketing are the Japanese. You never see them using quality in their marketing. It’s only the American companies that do. And yet if you ask people on the street, which products have the best reputation for quality, they will tell you the Japanese products.

[6:05] Now, why is that? How could that be? The answer is because customers don’t form their opinions on quality from marketing. They don’t form their opinions on quality from who won the Deming Award, or who won the Baldrige Award. They form their opinions on quality from their own experience with the products or the services.

[6:25] One can spend enormous amounts of money on quality. One can win every quality award there is. And yet if your products don’t live up to it, customers will not keep that opinion for long in their minds. So, where we have to start is with our products and our services, not with our marketing department. We need to get back to the basics and go improve our products and services.

[6:50] Now, again, quality isn’t just the product or the service. It’s having the right product. Knowing where the market’s going and having the most innovative products is just as much a part of quality as the quality of the construction of the product when you have it.

[7:08] What we’re seeing is the quality leaders of today have integrated that quality technology well beyond their manufacturing, now going well into their sales and marketing and out as far as they can to touch the customer, and trying to create super-efficient processes back from the customer all the way through to the delivery of the end product so that they can have the most innovative products, understand the customer needs fastest, et cetera, et cetera.

Interviewer: [7:31] You’ve had a remarkable opportunity to do an Act One, an Act Two, maybe there’ll be an Act Three, an Act Four. I’m not sure whether you came into contact with Dr. Juran back in the days of Apple…

Steve: [7:45] No, just at NeXT.

Interviewer: [7:49] What did you do differently at NeXT as a result of having been in contact with Dr. Juran that you didn’t do back in the days of Apple?

Steve: [7:55] In most companies, if you’re new and you ask, “Why is it done this way”? The answer is, “Because that’s the way we do it here,” or “Because that’s the way it’s always been done.” And in my opinion the largest contribution of much of this quality thinking is to approach these ways of doing things, these processes, scientifically, where there is a theory behind why we do them, there is a description of what we do, and most importantly, there is an opportunity to always question what we do.

[8:28] And this is a radically different approach to business processes than the traditional one, “because it’s always done this way.” And that single shift is everything, in my opinion. Because in that shift is a tremendous, optimistic point of view about the people that work in a company. It says, “These people are very smart. They’re not pawns. They’re very smart. And if given the opportunity to change and improve, they will. They will improve the processes if there’s a mechanism for it.”

[9:03] That optimistic humanism I find very appealing. I think we have countless examples that it works.

Interviewer: [9:16] Part of this way that this optimistic humanism is expressed in companies are the things to which the people who control corporations say yes, to requests and recommendations that are made to them. What kind of things are you saying yes to, here at NeXT, as a result of Dr. Juran’s teachings or exposure that you might never have said yes to before?

Steve: [9:40] Your question actually capsulizes what’s wrong. The whole philosophy behind these newer quality approaches is that people shouldn’t have to ask management permission to do something that needs to be approved. Authority should be vested in the people doing the work to improve their own processes, to teach them how to measure them, to understand them, and to improve them.

[10:08] And they should not have to ask for permission to improve their processes. A lot of the philosophy behind this quality stuff carries with it a flattening of the traditional hierarchical organization and a distribution of authority, to the people who are best in a position to decide what should happen to improve these processes, the people doing the work themselves. The permission that’s given because of this quality philosophy is the permission to not have to ask permission.

Interviewer: [10:49] The two quality gurus in America today, who seem to be getting the most press and the most notoriety, are Joe Juran and Dr. Deming. Obviously, you’re familiar with Dr. Deming and the Deming Prize. What do you see as the significant contributions of those men?

Steve: [11:11] I’ve never met Dr. Deming and I’ve never read his books. So, I’m ignorant, I can’t tell you.

Interviewer: [11:15] When you think back, 5 or 10 years, Dr. Juran is going to be gone at some point. All that’s going to be left are his tapes and his books. What are going to be your fondest memories of Dr. Juran?

Steve: [11:37] The thing that strikes me most deeply about Joe Juran is the fact that at his senior age his mind is as alive as anyone I know. He has an energy about him that propels him around the globe on planes, to come visit companies like NeXT, to spend draining days trying to transmit what he’s learned his whole life to people.

[12:08] You ask, why does he do this and where does he get the energy for it? There is clearly something in his heart that’s propelling him. His pocket book’s not what’s propelling him. His heart is propelling him. I have a very deep respect for that thing in his heart that he’s trying to take everything he’s learned in his whole life and teach the next generation, before he can no longer do that.

[12:42] He’s flown out here several times, cross-country, to try to make NeXT the kind of company that he would like to see more of. He will gain nothing from it himself, except to know that his ideas will live on beyond him. I really respect that. I’ve found him to be an incredibly warm individual with something big in his heart.

Interviewer: [13:11] You raise an interesting point, that he treats everyone the same. I don’t know how much private time you spent with him in a lunch or dinner apart from the ceremonial stuff…

Steve: [13:20] A fair bit.

Interviewer: [13:22] You could tell us. What’s Dr. Juran really like?

Steve: [13:26] He has much more of a sense of humor than he lets show when he’s talking to groups, a pretty wicked sense of humor, actually. [laughs] I just imagine, when he was young, he was a pretty wild character.

Interviewer: [13:49] Everyone we’ve spoken to has always alluded to Dr. Juran’s humor. We always say, “Give us an example.” Can you give me an example of the “Juran” humor?

Steve: [13:58] My memory’s not that good. I don’t remember anecdotes and things like that. I remember laughing a lot with him.

Interviewer: [14:04] Last question. Not smart enough to ask you, what, you think, ought to be on a video tape with the life of Joe Juran. Maybe if you don’t say this, nobody else will.

Steve: [14:31] I don’t know. I never visited him at his home. You learn a lot by doing that. I never met his wife, and you learn a lot by meeting someone’s family. Joe Juran is clearly a person that spent his life on one thing. He found his great subject early in life and he pursued it over decades. He’s made a deep contribution that will last well beyond his physical years. Like most people that do that, there is, below the surface, great sacrifices they’ve made to do that.

[15:33] In some cases with their family, in some cases with a lot of other things they might have wanted to do with their lives. I don’t think Joe Juran would be an exception, as a matter of fact I think he would follow that. I imagine that if one scratches the surface a little bit, one will find some sacrifices in his life that he’s made. Follow the pure path that he has that most people don’t see. Then, maybe, you have a chance to explore. I don’t know them myself. You can sense that they’re there.

Interviewer: [16:15] Actually, that one was not the last question. You suggested something. Clearly like Joe Juran, your life has been focused with a like passion. You have seen that passion fulfilled and you’ve seen promise realized, quite early.

[16:32] When you think back, Joe Juran’s early success was certainly in Japan, well in the late ’50s, I think 50-54, and yet it has taken literally 30 to 40 years before America has come around to giving Joe Juran the recognition that he really does deserve, in his teachings and his philosophies. What do you think it is in Joe Juran that has sustained him for 30 to 40 years, where those audiences were not so willing to listen?

Steve: [17:00] That’s a very good question. Most people that are able to make a sustained contribution over time, rather than just a peak, are very internally driven. You have to be. Because, in the ebb and tide of people’s opinions and of fads, there are going to be times when you are criticized, and criticism is very difficult. When you’re criticized, you learn to pull back a little and listen to your own drummer.

[17:32] To some extent, that isolates you from the praise if you eventually get it, too. The praise becomes a little less important to you and the criticism becomes a little less important to you, in the same measure. You become more internally driven. Joe Juran has, clearly, had those experiences and become very internally driven. I think he felt the bedrock of the truth of his pursuits. That’s what kept him going. I think that the great satisfaction that he got from Japan did not end in the ’50s.

[18:15] He probably looks at Japan as something that he helped nurture along, and as every decade has passed, he sees his ideas blossoming even more. I’m sure he gets tremendous satisfaction from having injected a very important ingredient into the early, post-war culture of Japan, and he probably sees that in every branch and leaf of a fairly large tree.

[18:39] What he’s trying to do now is to make sure that he gets that into the future culture of American industry as it rebuilds itself. If he is successful, which I think he is on the verge of being, that in his last breath he will feel comfortable knowing in the decades to come that his work will get recognition.

Interviewer: [19:06] As we say, thank you, Mr. President.

Steve: [19:09] OK.

[19:10] [background conversation]

[19:17] [cuts off]


mark graban lean blog Great Steve Jobs Video (& Transcript) from 1990 on Continuous Improvement leanAbout LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as the new Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Innovation and Improvement Services for KaiNexus.

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2 Comments on "Great Steve Jobs Video (& Transcript) from 1990 on Continuous Improvement"

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  1. Rafael
    Twitter:
    says:

    This is a great video that highlights want we need to continue to do in organizations. Thanks for sharing.
    Rafael recently posted..What is accountability? Is not what you think it is.My Profile

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