Tech journalist Robert X. Cringely's new Steve Jobs documentary, based on a recently found videotape, was hyped extensively. But the pre-release coverage didn't capture Jobs' blunt talk on why he lambasted the Mac team ("your work is shit"), or his most blistering attack ever on the man who ousted him. That would have to wait until the 70 minute interview's very limited release last night.
Based on a Q&A in 1995, the year before Jobs returned to Apple, Cringely's "Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview" is worth the $11 price of admission (and we say that having paid our own way). If you're intrigued by Jobs - as anyone who goes to see a movie about him surely is - he's probably not going to surprise you here. Many of the stories he recounts on screen have been told elsewhere, often in greater detail, and the worldview he presents is the same he'd share 10 years earlier or 10 years later.
The film's real value is in capturing the man's aura; his charm, his captivating one on one manner, his restless energy, his impatience, and, in various indirect ways, his frustration and rage with lesser beings (the silent, lethal looks he directs at Cringely make you wonder what he'd be saying or screaming were the camera off). You dont' get that from biographies or keynotes.
Even still, Cringely's session did draw out a few more concrete revelations.
He drilled Jobs on his famously harsh style of feedback. As Walter Isaacson and other biographers have documented, Jobs drove members of the original Mac team so hard, so fast that many of the key players ended up leaving the company. Jobs, who knew Cringely had done extensive interviews with the team, made no apologies:
Robert: ...There are also people [from the Mac team] who now say that they don't have the energy anymore to work for you.
Steve: Sure. I think if you talked to a lot of people on the Mac team, they will tell you it was the hardest they have ever worked in their lives. Some of them will tell you it was the happiest they have ever been in their life. But then all them will tell you that is certainly one of the most intense and cherished experiences they will ever know.
Robert: Ya, they did.
Steve: So, you know, it's - some of those things are not sustainable, for some people.
Robert: What does it mean when you tell someone their work is shit?
Steve: It usually means their work is shit. Sometimes it means, "I think your work is shit and I'm wrong" [chuckles], but usually it means their work is not anywhere near good enough.
Robert: I have this great quote from Bill Atkinson, he says when you tell people their work is shit, you really mean, "I don't quite understand, Can you please explain it to me?"
Steve: Ha ha [smiling] - No. That's not usually right....
When you have really good people, they know they're really good, and you don't have to baby people's egos so much. And what really matters is the work - everybody knows that, that's all that matters is the work. So, people are being counted on to do specific pieces of the puzzle. And the most important thing I think you can do for someone who is really good, who is really being counted on, is to point out to them when their work isn't good enough, and to do it very clearly and to articulate why, and to get them back on track. And you need to do that in a way that does not call into question your confidence in their abilities, but that leaves not too much room for interpretation that the work they have done is not good enough, does not support the goal of the team. Thats a hard thing to do. And I've always taken a very direct approach... The really good people have found it beneficial. Some people have hated it.
Jobs also repeatedly lashed out at John Sculley, the Pepsi executive who he heavily recruited to come to Apple, bonded tightly with - "The John and Steve Show," Apple insiders called the pair - and then bitterly split from before being effectively pushed out of the company.
Cringely now says he has never heard Jobs more abusive of Sculley than he was in this interview. It's hard to disagree. The first time Jobs brings him up, it's to use him as an example of how sales people ruin technology companies. "John came from PepsiCo, and at most would change their product, you know, once every ten years," Jobs said. "To them, a new product was like a new sized bottle, right? ... So who influences the success of PepsiCo? The sales and marketing people. Therefore, they were the ones who got promoted and therefore they were ones who ran the company." The same thing, he said, happened to IBM and Xerox, whose monopolies were so strong their sales oriented execs focused on milking existing business rather than innovating.
Later, Jobs says "John Sculley got a very serious disease... the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90 percent of the work." Lacking "craftsmanship," he had no idea how to evolve an idea into a product, Jobs added.
When Cringely later asks about his departure from Apple, Jobs immediatley returns to the topic of Sculley. "Now I'm going to get all emotional if we keep talking about this," he eventually says, but not before declaring of Sculley, "I hired the wrong guy," and explaining why:
He destroyed everything I spent ten years working for - starting with me...
He was probably not long for the company. One thing I did not ever see about John until that time was he had an incredible survival instinct... John decided that a really good person to be a root of all these problems would be me... My belief was that Apple needed much stronger leadership to unite these various fractions that we created with the divisions, that the Macintosh was the future battle, that we needed to rein back expenses dramatically in the Apple II area but we needed to be spending very heavily in the Macintosh area...
And John's vision was that he should remain the CEO of the company. And anything that would help him do that would be acceptable... The values of Apple over the next several years were systematically destroyed... Apple's dying today. Apple's dying a very painful death.
Soon after, the cameras stopped rolling, and Jobs set to work completely reversing that prognosis. Hopefully there's another missing video somewhere documenting what happened over the following 16 years.