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Wednesday, 16 November 2011 16:04

'Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview' Offers a Fascinating, First-Person Snapshot

venturebeat.com venturebeat.com
Written by Diane Carson
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More than a decade after his forced exit from Apple, Steve Jobs sat down in 1995 for an extended, one-on-one interview with Robert X. Cringely, a blogger very knowledgeable about the computer world, a former Apple employee himself, and, clearly, respected by Steve Jobs.

The interview proper follows a minute and a half, on-camera introduction by Cringely, the writer, host and interviewer for the 1996 PBS miniseries The Triumph of the Nerds: the Rise of Accidental Empires. Cringely quickly puts the interview in context, noting that it took place 16 years ago, ten years after Jobs lost his leadership position at Apple. At the time, Jobs headed the niche computer company NeXT, which he sold to Apple a year after this interview and before again taking the reins at Apple. The exchange with Cringely takes place at this transitional point in Jobs' life. Informative and fascinating insights into his emotional state and intellectual perspective emerge as Jobs registers a wide range of sentiments. Notably, this interview was believed lost forever until a VHS copy was discovered in the London garage (how poetically appropriate) of Paul Sen, the television mini-series director. Since only a small portion of the interview appeared in the TV program, this discovery restores a significant piece to the Steve Jobs' puzzle.

Periodically interjecting off-camera questions, Cringely keeps the camera focused entirely on Jobs throughout the 70-minute interview, a revealing and wise decision because we watch Jobs' react to each question as he hears, considers, and responds. Jobs' complete honesty and thoughtful insight provide poignant, passionate, and sometimes amusing descriptions of his experiences, chronologically considered. More than once, Jobs can't suppress a sly grin or an impish satisfaction, but he also expresses pain and frustration. In his introduction, Cringely says the interview reveals Jobs' "charisma, candor and vision." It certainly does.

Of course, Jobs talks about his and Steve Wozniak's early work in that now famous garage, but he's as excited remembering his phone call as a 12-year-old to Bill Hewlett and his subsequent visit to and summer job at Hewlett-Packard, where the free doughnuts impressed him. Distinguishing him from so many others, Jobs reflects thoughtfully about his experiences and observations, understanding that through his involvement with Hewlett-Packard he was already beginning to form a view of what a company is by how they treat employees. As Jobs says, "The company recognized its true value was its employees." He also details the importance of visits to NASA's Ames Research Center, to Hewlett-Packard's Palo Alto lab, to Xerox, and to Stanford University's Linear Accelerator unit. He remembers and describes exactly what he saw and what he learned. The exhilaration remains, and it's there also when Steve talks about the infamous blue box he and Steve Wozniac built in three weeks. It mimicked long-distance ring tones, permitting free long-distance calls anywhere in the world, including to the Pope. It's a good story, including Jobs' explaining the mistake AT&T made that opened the door to the blue box.

Perhaps the most surprising moments come when Jobs offers frank comments about his ouster from Apple, saying at first that he doesn't want to, or know if he can, talk about it because he still finds it so painful. Commendably, instead of blaming others, he blames himself saying he should have known that someone like John Sculley, Apple CEO at the time and the man behind Jobs being fired, didn't succeed in the corporate world as a nice guy. As Jobs talks about his own management style, we realize that he wasn't the easiest guy to work for either. However, he describes an exciting approach, elaborating on the importance of the "liberal arts air," the constructive combination "of poets and artists and zoologists and historians." Jobs describes an attitude as refreshing as it is rare as he defines humans as "tool builders." He adds, "We build tools that can dramatically amplify our innate human abilities." And he ranks the personal computer, what he once called "the bicycle of the mind," "near, if not at, the top when history looks back."

Jobs' 1995 evaluation of the importance of the computer accurately assesses what we now know it has become. Steve Jobs realized its potential, knew that he had a tiger by the tail, and anticipated further developments. But after hearing several interviews these past few weeks with Walter Isaacson about Jobs perfectionism, I came away most struck with Jobs' comments about Microsoft. He says, "The problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have no taste, and I don't mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way." Jobs observes that the spirit, for lack of a better word, that makes a difference is "the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers." Putting that spirit, love, poetry, class, grace, taste, perfectionism—all of this—into computers distinguishes Apple and Steve Jobs from the mediocrity we know too well in our contemporary world.

Sometimes history benefits from such accidental finds, and Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview is one of those times when I'm exceptionally grateful for the good fortune. After the first minute and a half, this 70-minute film consists of one talking head that belongs to Steve Jobs. I found him fascinating, always reflecting and learning and prompting me to do the same. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.

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