Robert Cringely’s interview with Steve Jobs in the 1996 PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires yielded the now infamous quote about Microsoft’s “third-rate products.” The full VHS tape from which those excerpts were originally plucked had gone missing for over a decade. It has now has been found and released in its entirety—and it’s currently streaming on Netflix.
We combed through Jobs’ discussion of why and how things came to be, and grabbed the eight most compelling statements by the late tech innovator. Please keep in mind that this was taped in 1995, a year prior to his triumphant return to Apple.
“I don’t really care about being right, I just care about success. You’ll find a lot of people that will tell you I had a very strong opinion, and they presented evidence to the contrary and five minutes later I changed my mind. I don’t mind being wrong, and I’ll admit that I’m wrong a lot. It doesn’t really matter to me too much. What matters to me is that we do the right thing.”
7. Asking “Why?”
“Throughout the years in business, I found something. I always ask why you do things. The answers you invariably get is, ‘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.”
6. Really Good People
“When you get 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, and everybody knows that. So, people are being counted on to do specific pieces of the puzzle. And the most important thing you can do for someone who’s really good and really being counted on is to point out to them when their work isn’t good enough.”
5. Dynamic Range
“I observed something very early on at Apple, I didn’t know how to explain it then, but I’ve thought about it since. Most things in life, the dynamic range between ‘average’ and the ‘best’ is, at most, two-to-one. If you get into a cab in New York City with the best cab driver, as opposed to the average cab driver, you’re probably going to get to your destination with the best cab driver maybe thirty percent faster… Or a CD player, the difference between the best CD player and the average CD player is what? Twenty percent? So two-to-one is a big dynamic range in most of life. In software—and it used to be the case in hardware too—the difference between the average and the best is 50 to one. Maybe 100 to one. Very few things in life are like this, but what I’ve been lucky enough to spend my life in is like this.”
4. Computer Science
“It had nothing to do with using [programs] for practical things, it had more to do with using them as a mirror of your thought process. To actually learn how to think. I think everyone in this country should learn to program a computer. Everyone should learn a computer language because it teaches you how to think. I think of computer science as a liberal art.”
3. Product People
“The technology crashed and burned at Xerox. Why? I learned more about this with John Sculley later on. What happens is, John came from Pepsico. And they—at most—would change their product once every 10 years. To them, a new product was a new sized bottle. So if you were a ‘product person’, you couldn’t change the course of that company very much. So, who influences the success at Pepsico? The sales and marketing people. Therefore they were the ones that got promoted, and they were the ones that ran the company. Well, for Pepsico that might have been okay, but it turns out the same thing can happen at technology companies that get monopolies. Like IBM and Xerox. If you were a ‘product person’ at IBM or Xerox: so you make a better copier or better computer. So what? When you have a monopoly market-share, the company’s not any more successful. So the people who make the company more successful are the sales and marketing people, and they end up running the companies. And the ‘product people’ get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product. They have no conception of the craftsmanship that’s required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. And they really have no feeling in their hearts about wanting to help the costumers.”
“People get confused; companies get confused. When they start getting bigger, they want to replicate their initial success. And a lot of them think, ‘Well, somehow, there’s some magic in the process of how that success was created.’ So they start to institutionalize process across the company. And before very long, people start to get confused that the process is the content. And that’s ultimately the downfall of IBM. IBM has the best process people in the world. They just forgot about the content. And that happened a little bit at Apple, too. We had a lot of people who were great at management process. They just didn’t have a clue about the content. In my career, I found that 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. It’s not process, it’s content.”
1. Culture in the Products
“The only problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste, and I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way. They don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their product. You say, why is that important? Proportionally spaced fonts come from type-setting and beautiful books, that’s where one gets the idea. If it weren’t for the Mac, they would never have that in their products. So I’m saddened—not by Microsoft’s success, I have no problem with their success. They’ve earned their success, for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third-rate products. Their products have no spirit to them. They have no spirit of enlightenment about them. They are very pedestrian. And the sad part is that a lot of customers don’t have a lot of that spirit either. But the way we’re gonna ratchet up our species is to take the best and spread it around everybody so that everybody grows up with better things and starts to understand the subtlety of these better things. And Microsoft’s just McDonald’s.”