Watching the Steve Jobs “Lost Interview,” Part 1


Recently, I stumbled across something that's been out for about a year, a lost video of Steve Jobs being interviewed in 1995. See this CBS News story about the video or you can rent the video via (what else) Apple iTunes (as well as Amazon and YouTube, all costing $3.99).  While I love my Macs and my iPhone, I've never been one to really worship Steve Jobs, the leader. But, I thought this video was really interesting and worth the four bucks — even though it's just Steve Jobs, sitting still in a chair, and talking (answering questions) for over an hour.

I'll share some thoughts here from a Lean perspective.

 In 1995, Steve Jobs had been out of Apple for 10 years and was just 18 months away from regaining the CEO position. He was sad, yet harsh, about what he saw as Apple's fate at that point, saying (quotes are as accurate as I could transcribe them without being obsessive about it):

Apple's dying today, a very painful death. It's on a glide slope to die. I don't think it's reversible at this point. Apple had a ten year lead over Microsoft and Apple stood still.”

I think back to 1995, when I was working at General Motors. Our plant manager (who worked with and learned from Toyota at the famed NUMMI plant, now run by Tesla Motors) talked about how Toyota had a lead in quality and productivity. GM would work hard to catch up… but he emphasized that Toyota would continue to get better. GM was chasing a moving target. It sounds like Apple had become a stationary target for Microsoft and the PC makers.

When Jobs returned as CEO in 1997, Apple was 90 days away from bankruptcy. Now, in 2012, they are the most valuable company in history.

Early in the video, Jobs talks about working a summer job at HP when he was just 12 years old (after calling one of the HP founders by looking him up in the phone book, asking for parts to build something). One thing that stood out was the way HP treated its employees so well. Jobs recalled the “daily coffee and donut cart” that was brought around and that “the employees were the true value in the company.”

It's interesting to compare that to the awful-sounding working conditions of the Chinese workers who are assembling Apple products in the Foxconn factories in China. They're not Apple employees, but didn't Jobs think they deserved better conditions? Beyond free coffee and donuts?  Hmmm.

The interviewer, Robert X. Cringely, asked Jobs how he learned to run a company and what it was like to be a big success at age 21. Jobs said:

I always asked why you do things and the answers you invariably get are ‘oh that's just the way it's always done. Nobody knows why they do what they do. Nobody thinks about things very deeply in business, that's what I found.”

Lean thinkers are like Jobs in that sense. They are always asking why things are done a certain way and the answer is often “that's the way it's always been done.”

So, back to 2012 – why are there awful working conditions in China? It's not because “it's always been that way.” Jobs  built a factory in CALIFORNIA to assemble Macs at one point. In the video, Jobs brags about building the world's first automated computer assembly factory and that he visited “80 automated factories in Japan” so they could “reinvent everything” about their process.

Jobs continued:

So, in business, there's a lot of folklore. They're done because they were done yesterday and the day before. So what that means is that if you're willing to ask a lot of questions about things and work really hard, you can learn business pretty fast. It's not the hardest thing in the world. It's not rocket science.”

Lean thinkers like to ask questions, especially “Why?”

Jobs talked about some of the things that Apple struggled with in their culture, bringing up “process” (and having generally negative things to say, as did Elon Musk recently – Musk, whose Tesla Motors was mentioned earlier).

As companies get bigger, they try to replicate what got them there — process. They focus on process instead of the content. IBM had the best process people in the world. They just forgot about the content [the product]. That happened a little bit at Apple, too. We had people that were great at management process. They just didn't have a clue as to the content. I've found the best people are the ones that really understand the content… and they're a pain in the butt to manage, but you put up with it because they're so great at the content and that's what makes great products – not process, it's content.   That problem eventually led to the Lisa.  The product was a complete mismatch for Apple's market, customers, image, etc.

Jobs blamed people they had hired from HP, specifically.

People have long complained that the auto industry is run by people with finance backgrounds (especially the string of CEOs at General Motors), that they knew more about the New York treasurer's office than they knew about the plants. They think about financial processes and they view GM's purpose as making money – instead of building, as Steve Jobs might say, building “insanely great” cars and trucks. Although, Bob Lutz was a “content guy” if there ever was one when he was at Chrysler and GM. Check out my podcast with Lutz, where complains about the “bean counters” who ran the company (sounds a bit like Jobs).

Jobs repeatedly criticized John Sculley, the man he had hired to be his replacement at Apple (who then forced Jobs out).

John Sculley got a very serious disease – thinking the great idea is 90% of the work. If you just tell everybody the great idea, then of course, they can go make it happen. There's a great amount of craftsmanship between having a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts… as you learn a lot more.”

We see this a lot in different settings. A startup isn't automatically successful because they have a great idea. A “Lean Startup” is often successful because they “evolve that idea” as they learn and “pivot” in their product or their business model. The same can be said about process improvement ideas in healthcare or other settings. A great idea has to be crafted. The communication about the idea must be effective and there must be feedback received from different stakeholders to make the idea better and to put it into place. This sounds like the PDSA cycle, basically.

This is getting long… so tomorrow's post will be about the rest of the Steve Jobs video.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Something I learned from reading Jobs’ book is that he didn’t start Apple’s investment in China; it started under Scully as they shuttered Jobs’ Fremont Mac plant. It seems that Scully chased cheap labor. One might assume that once Steve came back, that he cared less about where the products were manufactured, and cared more about focusing on the “4” main products and executing them well. And if you read about how Steve built and ran the Fremont plant, you might conclude that it was better for Apple to keep the manufacturing away from Steve. I’m not suggesting that the conditions in China are justifiable. I think that Apple could certainly take some of its massive profits and improve conditions for its 800,000 workers in China, if it truly believed in its people. Although perhaps Apple doesn’t consider itself responsible for the employees of its suppliers. I know the direct Apple employees get treated pretty well.

  2. Great selection of quotes here Mark. I think your point about always asking why we do things this way is critical to getting a lean organization. Many people don’t know why – and often the reason is a lot less sophisticated than expected (I once asked why a certain road was built and was given the answer that lots of people on the council giving permission lived there!)

  3. I agree, the quotes about asking questions are excellent. This interview reminds me of Jim Collin’s explanation in his book Great by Choice about how Steve Jobs turned Apple around. From p. 83 he wrote:

    “What did Jobs first do to get Apple back on track? Not the iPod, not iTunes, not the iPhone, not the iPad. First, he increased discipline. That’s right, discipline, for without discipline there’d be no chance to do creative work. He brought in Tim Cook, a world-class supply chain expert, and together Jobs and Cook formed a perfect yin-yang team of creativity and discipline.”

    I’m not sure how much of an Apple expert Collins is, but he brings up an interesting theory. It definitely ties into leaning the company and focusing it. If you read on in the book, their product development process begins to sound just like a PDCA process.


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