And now you’re writing a book about it!
And now you’re writing a book about it!
Yes, I’m working on it because I was a a unique Insider for 20 years and I'm disappointed at the liberties that people like Aaron Sorkin have taken. I would have gladly helped tell the story the way it really happened, or at least lent some credibility to the parts that should have been historically correct.
I spoke to Andy Hertzfeld about that. He said Aaron explained that he was making a painting, not a photograph. It’s not supposed to be a documentary, so he felt he had creative license.
I know they're making movies, but let's at least get some of the real stuff in there about who Steve was. Let's not purposely put fictitious information into the world that people are going to believe was reality. That’s just wrong in my opinion.
I’ve heard people say that Steve’s iPhone launch was the greatest presentation in business history. It had heroes and villains, plot twists, humorous sidebars… Did the time you and Steve spend with Pixar influence his keynotes?
Oh, absolutely! If you look at the primitive narratives in Steve’s presentations at NeXT, you can see the influence that our experience at Pixar had on the storytelling over time that resulted in events like the iPhone launch.
What few people realize is that, like Pixar movies, there is a color scheme throughout the 90 minutes, and an emotional ramp. And yes there are heroes and villains, action sequences, humor and plot twists. You have to be careful not to wear the audience out. You have to manage building to a climax. Steve understood this better than anyone.
How much time went into preparing the iPhone demo?
Quite a lot! That’s the thing, no other CEO would have imagined spending the time Steve invested in his keynotes. For the most important ones, we started 3 or so months out. He would run the company until maybe 2:00 pm and then spend a few hours with me. Then he may start in again in the evening, me at my house and him at his, and we’d stay up until midnight. Sometimes we’d be at it again at 6 am.
I saw part of my job—and Steve never knew this—as managing his emotional ramp to the event. I’ve even described my job much like being a product manager. There were all kinds of things that could mess that up: the product timing, or the photos that were taken weren’t good enough, or he had a bad day, or we didn’t have all the assets he needed… or at times too many!
With movies, you never want anything to affect suspension of belief. You want your audience to stay in that magical moment and not think about how things are done. With the iPhone, we wanted to show that if you rotate your phone to landscape mode, the photo would automatically rotate too. But we were not projecting a video of the actual iPhone that Steve was holding in his hand, only the video from the iPhone. That would have made it shaky on the big screen with distracting reflections.
So we showed a graphic of an iPhone, to look like the Keynote slides, and projected Steve’s demo iPhone screen into the exact right position in the graphic. The trick was that when Steve rotated the iPhone to landscape mode, the right thing to do to keep customers in the moment was to rotate the iPhone graphic with its inserted video feed rotating in sync as well. But how?
It took a month for one of the brilliant Apple engineers to work out how to do this. It looked natural to the audience and no one had to think about how it happened.
When Steve saw this happen he first time, he knew it’d be magic and it had to be shown live. He rotated it back and forth several times in his demo and no one ever questioned what they were seeing because it looked exactly they way it should.
If I remember, the internal estimate of the marketing power of the iPhone demo Steve did that day was in excess of $1 billion of PR spend from demo until we shipped.
Amazing! Did he take feedback from other people at Apple as the presentation was being constructed?
He did. We learned from the creative process Pixar uses: iteration in front of people who can shape it by adding constructive feedback. We held high level slide and demo reviews in the town hall facility with people from each group that would be affected by the presentation. These would happen usually a week or two before the event and rehearsals onsite.
Steve was incredibly demanding when I was at NeXT and a lot of people didn’t last. How did you make it 20 years?
I know that I quit 3 times, one kind of officially via email to HR. God only knows how many times I was actually yelled at and fired but it never went anywhere. Essentially I never really wanted to leave so I didn’t.
That’s insane. I read an interview of Andy Cunningham who said, “I loved working for Steve Jobs even though he fired me 5 times.” What do you mean it never went anywhere?
One afternoon he told me, “God dammit, Wayne. I want you to fucking go home right now and tell me why I shouldn’t fire you tomorrow.” So I went home that night and I probably worked on 15 or 16 versions of an email trying to explain everything. But then I just decided to say “Steve, you know how I feel, but you’re the boss. You let me know tomorrow whether I’m fired or not.” I never heard another word about it.
The mythology of him mostly comes from individuals that didn't survive around him. The people who got close knew the rules, knew how to work with him, knew his core desires and what he was trying to achieve. They never really had problems with it.
Someone told me early on that if you do something great, you just have to acknowledge it yourself because you’re not going to get it from him except on a rare occasion. A lot of people who weren’t used to that would come in to present their product plan or whatever, and they would be seeking to make themselves look good and get praise from Steve. If he got a whiff of that, he would rip you down a peg.
He was usually right because the person usually didn’t do a great job. Those are the ones who flamed out and then had the horrible things to say because they couldn’t admit to themselves that they couldn’t cut the mustard.
He was a complex individual but he always desired the best out of everybody. He was ultimately very caring. He had his own relationship with my daughter from the age of 4 years old and let her come to rehearsals and events. He even asked her opinion a few times when the team couldn’t decide between particular graphics to use.
Give us an example of when he went off on you because he expected better.
When we launched the Lifesaver iMacs (the color ones), Steph Adams [Owner of Adams & Asscociates—the outside production company for Apple] and I were trying to bring them out from behind the screen and raise them up out of their pedestals. A week before the event and we were still struggling to synchronize them and make the motion smooth. This was before computer-controlled movement machinery was readily available.
After mentioning this to Steve, he literally says, “I know the guys from Cirque du Soleil, why don’t you call them?” With one week left, we couldn’t do that so we stuck with our way. It was a hand-crank thing. When you looked at it close, it was really bad. But when you were in the audience, you couldn’t tell unless you knew what to look for. However, Steve was on the stage watching these things not perfectly aligned with a little bit of stuttering. He wasn’t happy and we could see it in the video feed we were watching.
The show went off, no one ever noticed or mentioned it in the press, but yet he noticed. He pulled me and Steph aside. There were people all around so he didn’t scream or yell at us. It was one of those “I’m really disappointed. At any other time I’d probably fire you.” For ten minutes he went on and on. We looked at each other and just melted into the floor.
But we came back the next show having done our research. We now had the beginnings of our computer-controlled systems. We could bring things from the back of the stage, under the stage, or out of a cabinet—and twirl them as they emerged. Cirque du Soleil couldn’t do it better than we did it.
As I look back, if we had not been berated so much, we wouldn’t have seen that these were amazing products and they could have been launched so much better.
When I did his keynotes at NeXT, I don’t remember him ever being scripted. Did that change?
That’s the thing most executives don’t get. We never wrote a script. The preview monitor was just the next slide coming up. The Keynote development, the slide sequencing, the simplifying and honing were all part of his method for being as empathetic, emotive, charismatic and precise as he was on stage. It came from time spent working on the story with his slides, then rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing. Not from a script.
It was just part of him. There is a dichotomy in the world about the mythology surrounding him. A big part of his legacy comes from what people saw of him on stage. He was at his absolute best then. He was putting 110% of himself into it because he didn’t want to let the rest of the company down. He was introducing his creations to the world, they were like his children. Steve had an immediate trust factor with the audience because he was so bare and open at those moments in time.
After each show he would come to the back of the stage and ask Steph and I to grade him. And we would say it was a B, or B- or solid A. He really wanted to know how he did so if not great, he/we could do better next time. If you watch different keynotes, you can see that he had different emotional ramps depending on whether it was a product he was totally into or not.
Has the world ever seen anyone like him?
I don’t think so in business. I would get calls asking “Can you help us do a keynote like Steve?” (which we affectionately called Stevenotes). But they always had the expectation that I would write a script and build the slides in their entirety. They had no understanding of what it really took to master this medium.
Why are you writing this book?
Something hit me during the memorial at Stanford when I was among the 400 or so close friends and colleagues he had worked with. Each of them had ten or maybe a hundred stories to tell about Steve. If that’s not a testament to someone’s character, then what is? That’s how you know someone left a mark, made a difference, changed things. I got goosebumps when I thought about that.
I thought that I should write many of my stories, events and moments that I shared with Steve in some form that others might enjoy. I’ve told many of these stories to friends in person and they usually say, “you should write a book!”. So I’m working on one.
There’s a lot of information out there from journalists or impressions from his presentations. But stories from people who worked closely with him for decades fill in the painting, as you mentioned earlier Chris, of who he really was.
You took an unconventional approach to Pixar’s public offering. Can you explain?
Public offering presentations are usually filled with slides of financial metrics and not much else. Steve wanted to tell Pixar’s unique story and not just conform to the norm. So I created two sets of roadshow cases, including the best 36” Sony Trinitron TVs we could buy in 1995. We brought a Hi-8 video deck for Toy Story movie clips and ThinkPads running Concurrence on OpenStep for the presentation. I had these cases shipping all over the country. Sometimes we loaded them on the plane that we took from presentation to presentation.
Steve explained how they developed stories. Pixar would work tirelessly on the storyboards before any 3D graphics were ever created, essentially making the movie before making the movie. At scheduled times they would take those storyboards down to Disney for feedback. Disney was funding Toy Story, after all, and was also the gold standard in animation. So, the top brass at Disney would screen these story reels and give notes to Pixar. At that point, you would think that the Pixar team would bring the Disney notes back to their teeny company and implement the suggestions. But that was never ever the case.
What the notes told them was where the problems were in the narrative. John and his team had the confidence in their artistic vision. So they trusted that confidence in themselves to enact the fixes not just implement the Disney feedback.
This is was how Steve also used those working for him to help him craft the best products Apple launches.