Following the death of Steve Jobs on Oct. 5, there were some who compared him to Henry Ford — singling out the tech genius as the Great Modern Inventor. But what Apple fans might find most revealing in a recently rediscovered Jobs interview dusted off in advance of special movie screenings in major markets this week (read more about the theatrical event at SteveJobsTheLostInterview.com), is how much this creative mind understood about business processes and product workflows. He was certainly a designer, dreamer and self-identified hippie, but he was also a meticulous organizer and flow-chart tweaker – a man who believed that many business executives suffered from “a disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90 percent of the work… [but] there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a great idea and a great product.”
Back in 1995, Bob Cringely was developing the TV series Triumph of the Nerds about the dawn of the personal computer, and he sat down for more than an hour with Jobs for a rare, extended conversation. At that point in time it had been roughly 10 years since Jobs had been forced out of Apple, and he was already hard at work at his new computer company NeXT, looking forward to the popular adoption of the Internet. While a small portion of Cringely’s interview was used in Nerds, he says that the interview’s master copies went missing in shipping. It was only following Jobs’ death that a complete VHS copy was discovered in the director’s garage. This footage, slightly re-edited, is the basis of the 68-minute Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, coming to Landmark Theaters this Wednesday and Thursday. (See a full list of dates and times.) TIME has been provided with an exclusive excerpt of the lost interview; see the footage here.
For someone known to loathe in-depth interviews, Jobs seems surprisingly eager here to expound on his technological philosophies and business strategies. And incredibly thoughtful. At four different points during the interview, there are major gaps between questions and answers – 10 to 15-second ruminations, where Jobs is clearly weighing his thoughts, aiming for precision. There are also moments where Jobs’ perfectionism rises to the surface, where he seems impatient about Cringely’s questions, nudging him to move faster towards issues or subplots of greater import.
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Filmed before the era of Pixar, the iPod or the iPhone, there’s something eerily prescient about the Lost Interview, as Jobs assesses what he sees other companies doing right and wrong, and offers his own vision of the future of computing. It’s one thing to read posthumous appraisals of Jobs’ career, but there’s something raw and inspiring about the Jobs we see here, the anxious dreamer on the brink of greatness. He has a vision for the way things could be and should be. Not long after spelling it all out here he went and did it.
A quick rundown of seven notable Lost Interview sequences:
On how he learned to run a business: “Throughout the years in business, I’d always ask: ‘Why do you do things?’ and the answers you invariably get are: ‘Oh, that’s just the way it’s done.’ Nobody knows why they do what they do, nobody thinks about things very deeply in business. That’s what I found.” Jobs goes on to detail his efforts to streamline accounting at Apple. Baffled by the way costs were recorded – often beginning with a “standard cost” that amounted to a blind guess, which was then adjusted with a “variance” – he developed an automated factory that ensured they could determine business costs down to the second.
On pranking the Pope: Jobs recounts the “Blue Box” that he built with Steve Wozniak – a device that allowed people to effectively hack the phone company and make long distance calls for free. The device has been widely written about before, but Jobs’ euphoria here in describing the Blue Box as an act of empowerment is infectious. He describes how he and Wozniak would test the box by using a pay phone, placing a call, and then connecting from one AT&T network to another while looping in as many satellites as possible. “We were wrapping things around the globe a half dozen times and you would yell through the pay phone and it would come through a minute later in the pay phone next door,” Jobs says with a giggle. “We were young and what we learned was that we could build something ourselves that could control billions of dollars of infrastructure around the world. Us two, we didn’t know much, but we could build a little thing that could control a giant thing – it was an incredible lesson, and I don’t think there would have ever been Apple without (it).” Jobs goes on to detail one glorious prank that he and Wozniak nearly pulled of, ringing the Vatican via the Blue Box in the middle of the night and requesting to speak to the Pope, while doing their very best impression of Henry Kissinger. As various members of the Catholic hierarchy were summoned in the middle of the night to talk to the American diplomat, the two burst into giggles just before the Pope himself was roused to come answer the phone.
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On falling in love with technology (and cold-calling Bill Hewlett): At the age of 12, on the hunt for spare parts to build a frequency counter, he looked up Bill Hewlett in the phone book and gave him a call. Not long after their 20-minute phone conversation, Jobs landed a part-time summer job at Hewlett-Packard. “That made a remarkable influence on me, it was the only company I had seen at that age and it formed my view of what a company was and how well they treated their employees.” Jobs later became one of the HP employees to visit the company’s Palo Alto research labs, where he saw “the first desktop computer ever made. It was as big as a suitcase, had a small cathode ray tube display, and I fell in love with it. I would get a ride up to HP [as a teenager] and hang around that machine and write programs for it.”
On improvising innovation: At several points in the interview, Jobs talks about inventing new products on the fly. Early in his career, as he set out to sell a handful ofcircuit boards, he was asked by a customer to assemble the full computer. Working on only 30 days of credit, he had to figure out both the assembly and delivery of the finished devices. Later while at Apple, he recalls the struggles he faced in developing a computer mouse: “I remember having dramatic arguments…they were screaming at me that it would take five years [to build a mouse that would cost $300], and I got fed up and went outside and found a designer. Ninety days later, we had a mouse we could build for $15 that was incredibly reliable.”
On great companies losing steam: Long before he led the revival of Apple, Jobs presciently foresaw the ways in which so many industry leaders would stumble in their vision, and lose control of their market share. “Say you work at IBM or Xerox, so you make a better copier or printer, so what? You have a monopoly of the market share, so the company’s not more successful. Sales and marketing makes it more successful, so [it’s those kinds of people] who end up running companies and the product people get driven out of the decision-making forum. The product genius that led to that monopolistic position is rotted out by people who have no conception of good products vs. bad products – the craftsmanship required. That’s what happened at Xerox…Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry. It could have been ten times its size, could have been the Microsoft of the 90s…they grabbed defeat from victory.”
On innovation as art form: “There’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a great idea and a great product… as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. You learn a lot about the subtleties of it. There are tradeoffs you have to make – certain things you can’t make electrons do, glass do, robots do, factories do. You have to keep 5,000 things in your brain – these concepts – fitting them all together… Ultimately it comes down to taste – it comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best stuff humans have done, and then trying to bring those things in to what you’re doing. Picasso said that good artists copy, great artists steal. We’ve always been shameless about stealing great ideas. It’s part of what made the Macintosh great, was that the people who were working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists, historians who just happened to be the best computer scientists in the world. If not for computer science, they would be doing amazing things in other fields.”
On wealth: “I was worth around a million dollars when I was 23, over 10 million dollars when I was 24 and over 100 million dollars when I was 25 – and it wasn’t really important.”