homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tags

Focus means saying ‘no’

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2015

In 1997, shortly after Apple’s purchase of NeXT, Steve Jobs took the stage at Apple’s annual developer conference to answer questions from the audience for at least 50 minutes. It was a different time for sure. Apple was reeling, Jobs had just returned as an advisor and then interim CEO, his last company, NeXT, had not succeeded on its own, and the iPod & Apple Stores were years off.

When he arrived at Apple after the NeXT acquisition, Jobs moved swiftly to pare down the number of projects that the company was working on. In this first video, Jobs responds to a question about Apple killing a promising technology called OpenDoc.

Jobs talks about how “focus means saying ‘no’” and how Apple’s loss of focus has made the company less than the sum of its parts and not more. Even at this early stage in Apple’s comeback, you can see the seeds of how it was going to happen.

In the second video, a later questioner tells Jobs “it’s sad and clear that on several accounts you’ve discussed, you don’t know what you’re talking about”, asks him to comment on OpenDoc again, and also tell the audience what “he’s personally been doing for the last seven years”, a reference to his answer to the earlier question in the video above and the failure of NeXT.

Instead of laying into the guy, as a caricature of Steve Jobs might, he responds thoughtfully and almost humbly about how Apple needs to focus on its “larger, cohesive vision” of selling products to people, starting with customer experience rather than technology, and most importantly, making decisions.

Of course, in hindsight, it is obvious how overwhelmingly right Jobs was in his assertions. Since then, Apple has focused relentlessly on what worked and has succeeded brilliantly, beyond anything anyone, save perhaps Jobs, would have ever imagined. I wonder what that cheeky engineer is up to now? (via alphr)

(Also, can we talk about the patches on Jobs’ jeans? That’s not a fashion thing, right? Like, those aren’t $450 jeans made to look worn out. To me, those are obviously Steve’s favorite pair of jeans — probably Levi’s, I can’t tell for sure — patched up because he wants to keep wearing them. No one in technology has been picked apart like Steve Jobs by people looking for clues to who he was as a person and how that informed his business activities.1 Was he an asshole? Was he an artist? Was he just all smoke and mirrors? If we can stoop to the level of assessing a man’s character by the clothes he wears, it seems to me that whatever else he did, Jobs was at once pragmatic and dreamy when it came to products, to objects. What a potent combination that turned out to be.)

Update: The man who takes a swipe at Jobs in the later video was possibly identified on Quora last year by an anonymous person who said they worked on the WWDC event and spoke to the man in question.

The audience member is named Robert Hamisch. Mr. Hamisch was a consultant at a security firm in the 1990’s that did consultant services for Sun Microsystems (their billing and payroll department) for a short period of time. As far as I know, he left the company (the consulting firm, he never worked for Sun directly) and has since retired. He attended the 1997 WWDC sponsored by his security consulting firm, although never had any stake in Sun Microsystems as a whole besides general system security for their billing and payroll department. I don’t know why he specifically asked about Java, but he may have just been frustrated with Jobs and his performance as a whole.

A short web search turned up no information on Hamisch. (thx, charles)

  1. See this whole post as a prime example of this. Lol.

We Work Remotely