Make Something Wonderful

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I read Make Something Wonderful in the plane ride back to Malaysia from Hong Kong and the whole time I was immersed and when the plane landed I felt more alive and agentic than ever.

It's a curated collection of his speeches, interviews, and correspondence. His whole story was inspiring and I loved a lot of the things he said in his speeches and emails.

This blog is my curated collection of that collection.

On his childhood

  • his father was a machinist by trade and worked very hard and was kind of a genius with his hands.
  • when he was 5, his father spent a lot of time teaching him how to build things, take things apart, put things back together
  • He later met Larry Lang, a man who built Heathkits. These kits gave him an understand of what was inside a finished product and how it worked, and the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe.
  • it gave a tremendous degree of self-confidence that, through exploration and learning, one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment.

On California

  • California had a sense of experimentation, and a sense of openness about it – openness and new possibility – that I didn't appreciate till I went to other places.

On aesthetics and taste

  • a bunch of little things influenced him: wine labels, paintings in galleries. Simple things. Nothing real profound, just lots and lots of little things.
  • I don't think my taste in aesthetics is that much different than a lot of other people's. The difference is I just get to be really stubborn about making things as good as we all know they can be
  • Things get more refined as you make mistakes. Your aesthetics get better as you make mistakes.
  • It doesn't take any more energy – and rarely does it take more money – to make it really great. All it takes is a little more time. [...] And a willingness to do so, a willingness to persevere until it's really great.
  • good aesthetics results from just your eye. And instinct of what you see, not so much what you do.

On character

  • people's spark of self-consciousness turns on at about 15 or 16.
  • Humanities lecture in Reed college, i.e. Shakespeare with professor Svitavsky felt meaningless and even cruel endeavors to be put through, but looking back, it helped him in everything he's ever done.
  • he learned about situational ethics from people at the Hare Krishna temple
  • "Character is built not in good times, but in bad times; not in a time of plenty, but in a time of adversity"

On liberal arts

  • Apple's major contribution was bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers
  • the driving motivation behind the ease of use of the Macintosh was not just to get more people to use computers, it was to bring beautiful fonts and typography and graphics to people, to see beautiful photographs or pictures, or artwork, etc. to help them communicate what they were doing.
  • Computer science and science is a liberal art. It's something that everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It's not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It's something that everybody should be exposed to, everyone should have a master of, to some extent, and that's how we viewed computation, or these computation devices.

On apple's culture

  • there wasn't a hierarchy of ideas that mapped onto the hierarchy of the organization. Great ideas could come from anywhere.
  • we hired truly great people and gave them the room to do great work.
  • A lot of companies hire people to tell them what to do, we hired people to tell them us to do.

On intuitive feelings (dreams)

  • Be aware of the world's magical, mystical, and artistic sides. The most important things in life are not the goal-oriented, materialistic things that everyone and everything tries to convince you to strive for.
  • Whatever it may be, I bet many of you have had some of these intuitive feelings about what you could do with your lives. These feelings are very real, and if nurtured can blossom into something wonderful and magical. A good way to remember these kinds of intuitive feelings is to walk alone near sunset – and spend a lot of time looking at the sky in general. We are never taught to listen to our intuitions, to develop and nurture our intuitions. But if you do pay attention to these subtle insights, you can make them come true.
  • People will come at you with reasons why you shouldn't do these things (writing songs won't help you make a living). You could be doing so much more in your life. (Einstein working at a low-level job in the Swiss patent office)
  • If you don't have any of these feelings, called dreams, then you're in trouble.

On creativity

  • Be a creative person. Creativity equals connecting previously unrelated experiences and insights that others don't see.
  • You have to have them to connect them. Creative people feel guilty that they are simply relaying what they "see". How do you get a more diverse set of experiences? Not by traveling the same path as everyone else.
  • to be creative, feed or invest in yourself by exploring uncharted paths that are outside the realm of your past experience. Seek out new dimensions of yourself – especially those that carry a romantic scent
  • The only thing one can do is to believe that some of what you follow with your heart will indeed come back to make your life much richer. And it will. And you will gain an ever firmer trust in your instincts and intuition.

On career and loving your work

  • The enemy of most dreams and intuition, and one of the most dangerous and stifling concepts ever invented by humans, is the "Career"
  • If you are passionate about your life and your work, they become more or less one. This is a much better way to live one's life.
  • Make your avocation your vocation. Make what you love your work
  • The journey is the reward. The reward is in crossing the rainbow.
  • Think of your life as a rainbow arcing across the horizon of this world. You appear, have a chance to blaze in teh sky, then you disappear
    • The two endpoints of everyone's rainbow are birth and death. We all experience both completely alone
    • To know my arc will fall makes me want to blaze while I am in the sky.
  • You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.

On mistakes

  • regrets are different from mistakes
  • mistakes = things you did and wish you could do over again.
    • Some mistakes are deep, and others not. But if your intent was pure, they're almost always enriching in some way.
  • regrets = things you didn't do, and wish you did.

On hiring young A players

  • You'd better have great people, or you won't get your product to market as fast as possible.
  • There are no shortcuts around quality, and quality starts with people
  • for young people, you must evaluate potential. The primary attributes are 1) intelligence and the ability to learn quickly and 2) drive and passion – hard work makes up for a lot
  • I will purposely upset someone by criticizing their prior work. The worst thing someone can do in an interview is agree with me. What I look for is someone to come right back and say "You're dead wrong and here's why". I want to see what people are like under pressure. I want to see if they just fold or if they have firm conviction, belief, and pride in what they did.
  • If your company is a meritocracy of ideas, with passionate people, you have a company with a lot of arguments. If people can't stand up and argue well under pressure, they may not do well in such an environment.

On his weakness

  • I'm too idealistic. [I need to] realize that sometimes best is the enemy of better.
  • Sometimes I go for "best" when I should go for "better", and end up going nowhere or backwards.
  • I'm blinded by "what could be" versus "what is possible", doing things incrementally versus doing them in one fell swoop.
  • Balancing the ideal and the practical is something that I still must pay attention to.

On a CEO's job

  • Cajole and bed and plead and threaten at times – to do what is necessary to get people to see things in a bigger and more profound way than they have, and to do better work than they thought they could do.
  • When they do their best and you don't think it isn't enough, you tell them straight "This isn't good enough. I know you can do better. You need to do better. Now go do better."
  • 1) recruit, 2) set an overall direction, 3) inspire and cajole and persuade.

Apple's hierarchy of Skepticism

  • survival > stable business > product strategy > growth

His favorite quote

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit – Aristotle

On culture and connection

  • There's tradition in SV. There's role models, and there's legends, and there's all sorts of folklore – the kind of thing that makes a culture. Many people don't spend time to learn about it. But some people find themselves in it, and slowly start to absorb it and get curious as to what came before them.
  • There's human drama to most everything. You look at it sometimes, and it seems as dry as history. But if you peel the onion, there's humanity underneath.
  • Just to understand what's going on now – you can't really do that unless you understand how it got here.

He who loves to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer's booth at a fair and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant ot be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.

– Schopenhauer's On the Suffering of the World

On tech 🤝 creativity

  • tech and content companies have no understanding of each other
  • the creative process is as disciplined as any engineering process. And they're as passionate about it as any technical person.
  • tech companies have a wide, dynamic range of capability and elegance. there's creativity in the process.

on management

  • when he was younger: management by objective. "You accomplished none of your objectives, you're fired"
  • now: management by values: find people that want the same things you want, and then just get the hell out of their way.
    • have a good enough place to go, that's got a long enough focal length that it will survive over time, that everybody agrees on, and don't codify how you're going to get there. So that each generation can argue anew about the best way to get to San Diego.

On death

  • "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
  • Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because a most everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
  • Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
  • Death is likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.
  • Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

his famous email to himself

I grow little of the food I eat, and of the little I do grow I did not breed or perfect the seeds.
I do not make any of my own clothing.
I speak a language I did not invent or refine.
I did not discover the mathematics I use.
I am protected by freedoms and laws I did not conceive of or legislate, and do not enforce or adjudicate.
I am moved by music I did not create myself. When I needed medical attention, I was helpless to help myself survive.
I did not invent the transistor, the microprocessor, object oriented programming, or most of the technology I work with.
I love and admire my species, living and dead, and am totally dependent on them for my life and well being.

September 2, 2010, 11:08 p.m.

my favorite quote of his

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact—and that is: everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it.
You can influence it.
You can build your own things that other people can use.
And the minute you can understand that you can poke life, and if you push in, then something will pop out the other side; that you can change it, you can mold it—that's maybe the most important thing: to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there, and you're just going to live in it versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that's very important, and however you learn that, once you learn it, you'll want to change life and make it better. Because it's kind of messed up in a lot of ways.
Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.
— Steve, 1994