Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple, the company he founded and turned into the largest technology company in the world. Although his tenure as CEO will be remembered for ushering in fundamental changes in the way people interact with technology, he has also been known for his salesmanship, his ability to turn a phrase – and a knack for taking complicated ideas and making them easy to understand. Below, a compendium of some of the best Steve Jobs quotes.
“It takes these very simple-minded instructions—‘Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number’––but executes them at a rate of, let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.
“I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much — if at all.
“These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that.
“But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” [Wired, February 1996]
“I think it’s brought the world a lot closer together, and will continue to do that. There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything. The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television — but then, again, television, at its best, is magnificent.” [Rolling Stone, Dec. 3, 2003]
“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.
When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.
“Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. [Wired, February 1996]
“For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998, in a profile that also included the following gem: “Steve clearly has done an incredible job,” says former Apple Chief Financial Officer Joseph Graziano. “But the $64,000 question is: Will Apple ever resume growth?”]
“This is what customers pay us for–to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Take desktop video editing. I never got one request from someone who wanted to edit movies on his computer. Yet now that people see it, they say, ‘Oh my God, that’s great!’” [Fortune, January 24 2000]
“Look at the design of a lot of consumer products — they’re really complicated surfaces. We tried to make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart, and want objects which are well thought through.” [MSNBC and Newsweek interview, Oct. 14, 2006]
On His Products
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on something, but working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life. Almost everyone who worked on it will say that. None of us wanted to release it at the end. It was as though we knew that once it was out of our hands, it wouldn’t be ours anymore. When we finally presented it at the shareholders’ meeting, everyone in the auditorium gave it a five-minute ovation. What was incredible to me was that I could see the Mac team in the first few rows. It was as though none of us could believe we’d actually finished it. Everyone started crying.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
Playboy: We were warned about you: Before this Interview began, someone said we were “about to be snowed by the best.”
[Smiling] “We’re just enthusiastic about what we do.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.” [On Mac OS X, Fortune, Jan. 24, 2000]
“It will go down in history as a turning point for the music industry. This is landmark stuff. I can’t overestimate it!” [On the iTunes Music Store, Fortune, May 12, 2003]
“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. … One is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.” [Announcement of the iPhone, Jan. 9, 2007]
“You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it’s humorous, all the attention to it, because it’s hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that’s happened to me.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” [The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 1993]
Q: There’s a lot of symbolism to your return. Is that going to be enough to reinvigorate the company with a sense of magic?
“You’re missing it. This is not a one-man show. What’s reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there’s a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they’re not losers. What they didn’t have was a good set of coaches, a good plan. A good senior management team. But they have that now.” [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998]
“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” [Fortune, Nov. 9, 1998]
“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” [Apple Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer Inc., May 1999]
“The problem with the Internet startup craze isn’t that too many people are starting companies; it’s that too many people aren’t sticking with it. That’s somewhat understandable, because there are many moments that are filled with despair and agony, when you have to fire people and cancel things and deal with very difficult situations. That’s when you find out who you are and what your values are.
“So when these people sell out, even though they get fabulously rich, they’re gypping themselves out of one of the potentially most rewarding experiences of their unfolding lives. Without it, they may never know their values or how to keep their newfound wealth in perspective.” [Fortune, Jan. 24, 2000]
“The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process. Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that’s not what it’s about. Process makes you more efficient.
“But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.
“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. [BusinessWeek, Oct. 12, 2004]
On His Competitors
Playboy: Are you saying that the people who made PCjr don’t have that kind of pride in the product?
“If they did, they wouldn’t have made the PCjr.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“Some people are saying that we ought to put an IBM PC on every desk in America to improve productivity. It won’t work. The special incantations you have to learn this time are the “slash q-zs” and things like that. The manual for WordStar, the most popular word-processing program, is 400 pages thick. To write a novel, you have to read a novel––one that reads like a mystery to most people. They’re not going to learn slash q-z any more than they’re going to learn Morse code. That is what Macintosh is all about.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“The only problem with Microsoft is 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, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.”
“I am 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.” [Triumph of the Nerds, 1996]
“I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” [On Bill Gates, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1997]
On Predicting the Future
“I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’ll always come back. [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people––as remarkable as the telephone.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That’s over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it’s going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade.
“It’s like when IBM drove a lot of innovation out of the computer industry before the microprocessor came along. Eventually, Microsoft will crumble because of complacency, and maybe some new things will grow. But until that happens, until there’s some fundamental technology shift, it’s just over.” [Wired, February 1996]
The desktop metaphor was invented because one, you were a stand-alone device, and two, you had to manage your own storage. That’s a very big thing in a desktop world. And that may go away. You may not have to manage your own storage. You may not store much before too long. [Wired, February 1996]
“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” [1982, quoted in Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple, 1987]
“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.” [Wired, February 1996]
“I’m an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what’s happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don’t seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids.” [Wired, February 1996]
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
“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 until you find it. Don’t settle.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
“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 almost 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.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” [NBC Nightly News, May 2006]
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very 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. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
“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.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
Follow Jennifer Valentino-DeVries on Twitter @jenvalentino.