A lesson from the younger Steve Jobs
I just recently finished a wonderful book by David A. Price called The Pixar Touch. In it, the author chronicles the rise of the computer-animation pioneer and follows the founders’ unrelenting quest to produce the first full-length feature animated movie. For years, Pixar sold computer hardware as it’s core business before getting the opportunity to do what they dreamed of and loved. What a lesson in patience and “keeping your eye on the ball.”
Every story is interesting and compelling if you look hard enough. I believe multiple lessons can be learned from every book. This one is no exception. Many business and life lessons can be gained from the Pixar story but one encounter stands out. I’d like to recount that here.
Of course, the book wouldn’t be complete without spending considerable time on the role of CEO, Steve Jobs. In the past week, there’s been a lot of reflection on the life of Steve Jobs and his impact on culture. His commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 reveals a man who matured and learned a great deal about what is truly important. This story isn’t about that man. It’s about the much younger Steve Jobs.
Let me set the stage. It’s 1986. Steve Jobs has been fired from Apple, the company he founded. Pixar (not their name at the time) is owned by Lucasfilms. All Pixar wants to do is make computer-animated films. This means they aren’t focused on developing the digital sound and video editing systems Lucasfilms wants. Not to mention the boring electronic accounting programs. That’s why George Lucas bought them in the first place.
Lucas wants to sell. Steve Jobs wants to buy. And, after a year of rejecting Jobs’ offer of $5 Million, Lucas finally caves. It’s deal time. Let’s do this.
I’m paraphrasing, but this is what happened next:
Lucas: “Come on up and we’ll sign the papers.”
Jobs: “No, you guys come down here to sign.”
Lucas: “We’re not going anywhere. You come to us.”
Jobs: “No. We’ll sign down here.”
Lucas: “That’s not going to happen.”
Jobs: “The deal is off then.”
They ended up… and here’s the word… compromising. They met in the middle at a lawyer’s office and ended up signing the papers there.
I can hear you now. ”It’s a lesson about compromise. I get it.” Not really. Here’s what you need to understand. We’re talking about sixty miles. It’s a pretty substantial business deal. I’m reading this and I want to scream, “Someone… for the love of Pete… drive the 60 miles.”
Sometimes, we don’t need to compromise. Sometimes, one person just needs to cave and give in for the benefit of the bigger picture.
How many times has the argument over something insignificant escalated to atomic proportions? You and your spouse are at odds, all because one of you isn’t willing to go the relatively short distance to bridge the gap.
You win but really lose.
What has been lost in relationship simply because you don’t know how to “pick your battles”? You win. But you really lose. And, you don’t just lose. Those around you lose too.
Imagine if the deal hadn’t happened. All because of a measly 60 miles. No Woody. No Buzz Lightyear. No Sulley. No Mr. Incredible. No Nemo.
Some could even argue… No rescuing of Disney at a time when it lost the plot and was creatively anemic.
So, the next time you’re tempted to throw the “compromise card,” evaluate whether compromise is really what’s needed. Try and look objectively at the bigger picture. Then you make the effort to close the distance. You drive the 60 miles to make the deal work. You go farther than the other person with a deep understanding that there’s always more at stake than who is “right” and who is “wrong”.
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.
“This was a very typical time. I was single. All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that’s what I had.”
- Steve Jobs in 1982 by Diana Walker