Brain Pickings

Steve Jobs and NeXT: Rare PBS Documentary circa 1986

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A startup sentiment sandwich from the master chef, or why “reality distortion” helps sales but hurts design.

In 1985, shortly after being fired from Apple, Steve Jobs founded NeXT, the somewhat short-lived but revolutionary company focused on higher education and business services. It was there that Jobs honed his visionary approach to computing and design, and crystalized his lens of priorities — the very qualities that made him not only a cultural icon but also a personal hero.

This fascinating PBS documentary, titled The Entrepreneurs and filmed in 1986, offers a rare glimpse of Jobs’ original vision with NeXT, from his aspirations for higher education and simulated learning environments to his decision-making process on price point and product features to his approach to company culture and motivational morale.

Whether NeXT can be a viable business is something only time will tell. But Steve Jobs’ passionate commitment to his vision is clear, and his certainty that it can be achieved — and is worth achieving — is a conviction to be observed in all successful entrepreneurs.”

Some of my favorite parts:

  • 1:20 Iconic designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand reveals the NeXT logo. (See also this fantastic old favorite, in which Jobs reminisces about what it was like to work with a man of such genius and such temper.)
  • Rand doesn’t usually work for infant companies, even if they can afford him. But NeXT isn’t an ordinary startup.”

  • 3:50 Jobs talks about how affordable, accessible technology can make a real difference in the learning environment — a vision also articulated by beloved science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in this 1988 Bill Moyers interview
  • 4:35 On planting the seeds of a new corporate culture:
  • More important than building a product, we are in the process of architecting a company that will hopefully be much more incredible, the total will be much more incredible than the sum of its parts, and the cumulative effort of approximately 20,000 decisions that we’re all gonna make over the next two years are gonna define what our company is. And one of the things that made Apple great was that, in the early days, it was built from the heart.”

  • 10:31 Joanna Hoffman, also known as Apple employee #5, confronts Jobs about the double-edged sword of “reality distortion,” on the one hand a powerful motivator and on the other false prophet for design decisions
  • 13:54 A startup sentiment sandwich of sorts — celebrating the initial idea-high of entrepreneurship, getting grounded into and concerned about the realities of day-to-day operations, then bringing back those big-picture entrepreneurial ideals as a guiding light in overcoming the mundane obstacles.
  • I don’t see that startup hustle… If we zoom out of the big picture, it would be a shame to have lost the war because we won a few battles.”

Merely 48 months later, Jobs stood up in front of a riveted audience at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall and introduced four fully crystalized, groundbreaking NeXT products, including “some of the neatest apps that have ever been created for any desktop platform,” “the best color that’s ever been,” and “the most important new application area in the 1990s…interpersonal computing.”

For more on the genius of Jobs, don’t miss the excellent I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words, which curates 200 of his most timeless and powerful quotes, and of course the celebrated Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs.

HT TUAW

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