How will Apple avoid the fate that befell Sony after the retirement of Akio Morita? Will the new chief of Apple have enough of the iconic owner's instincts? Will the technology company stay youthful in spirit?
These are some of the questions that Michael Moritz brings up in ‘Return to the Little Kingdom: Steve Jobs, the creation of Apple, and how it changed the world'. Adding that no technology company has ever been able to consistently produce great consumer products for half a century, the author asks, “So, for Apple there is the inevitable question, what comes next? Can it continue to produce encore performances? Will the corpus always think and act differently?”
Moritz extols that at a time when empires are crumbling and corporate frauds are exposed, Apple is an emblem for daring, ingenuity, and enterprise. “When so much was piled atop mountains of debt, it is reassuring to know that real earnings and tangible profits can be used to invest in the future. When weak companies scurry to Washington to bleat for Federal bailout money, it is a tonic to realise that nothing is more effective than the spirit of a restless company threatened with extinction.”
The book opens by rewinding to when Steve Jobs was in his late twenties, addressing the Macintosh division at an offsite. “This is the cream of Apple. We have the best people here and we must do something that most of us have never done: We have never shipped a product…” He went on to show an object that looked like a desk diary, with a case covered in brown felt and opening to reveal a mock-up of a computer, the author reports.
“A screen occupied one half and a typewriter keyboard the other. ‘This is my dream,' said Jobs, ‘of what we'll be making in the mid- to late eighties. We won't reach this on Mac One or Mac Two but it will be Mac Three. This will be the culmination of all this Mac stuff.'”
Those interested in the history of Mac will relish the narrative about how the team battled with a printed circuit board which, festooned with probes and wires, looked like a stomach pried apart with sutures, retractors, and hemostats. “The probes were hooked to a logic analyser and the rows of lines on its green screen monitored the signals emerging from the microprocessor.”
You would also meet Burrell Smith, who first noticed the computer was not behaving properly while the rest of the engineers were celebrating what they thought was the completion of the first Mac prototype. “Smith had ignored the champagne, which at Apple (and at the Mac group in particular) had a habit of appearing from behind even the thinnest milestone, and sat by himself looking at the computer. He had used a heat gun, which looked like a hairdryer, and a spray to heat and cool particular chips to temperatures where quirks were liable to appear more frequently.”
Smith felt that the problem lay with the largest chip on the motherboard, the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, which allowed Mac to have about ten times as much computing power as the Apple II, though it used half as many chips. The author captures the difference in complexity through an analogy as described by Smith – ‘watching an ordinary baseball game and then trying to follow the action in a game where eight batters hit simultaneously to fifty-four outfielders.' So, what does Smith do? Perspiring, but flicking frames onto the logic analyser to inspect another frame showing the electronic signals from the clocks, because ‘you thrash around the design space long enough and you learn the idiosyncrasies.'
Recounts Moritz that some at Apple thought the entire Mac project reflected a parade of personal idiosyncrasies rather than any grand design. “There was no plan of Napoleonic proportions. False starts, diversions, mistakes, experiments, rebellion, and competition formed the stuff of the machine.”
Trying to instil a system of values in a company where the spirit of the founders ran so strong was difficult if not impossible, reminisces the author. He reasons that, even if Apple was too large for the founders to be seen in every nook and cranny, it was small enough for rumour of their behaviour, word of their performance, and their general reputation to have a profound effect on the corporate tone. “They were mobile billboards. And when their deeds or their words failed to match the beatific standards preached by the culture committee, the entire effort was stymied.”
One learns that though Jobs found the theory of corporate culture alluring he was more taken by actions that offered immediate, tangible results. “He certainly wanted to make Apple a pleasant place to work. He would enthusiastically describe his plan for an updated version of a company town, which he called ‘Supersite,' where offices and houses would intermingle.”
With flexible hours, however, Jobs found his hopes dashed, when the system that allowed engineers and programmers freedom to work at home or at the office was not achieving the necessary results. His memo to his group, therefore, said, “When I agreed to totally flexible hours it was with the stated assumption that it was the most efficient way to get a very professional quality of work done. This group has not demonstrated that quality in the last 60 days… Effective tomorrow, everyone… is required to be in by 10:00 AM. No exceptions.”
You can get a taste of Jobs' style in a chapter that chronicles his life as the head of research and development, within months of the introduction of the Apple II. Jobs had little interest in laborious research, writes Moritz. “There was nothing he believed in more deeply than his own intuition and his sense and touch for where technology and markets would meet.”
To emphasise how Jobs developed what amounted to a religious faith in the strength of his instincts, a quote cited is as follows: “You make a lot of decisions based on the fragrance or the odour of where you think things are going.” Bizarre it may sound, but Jobs was unwilling to let product planning become burdened with analysis, focus groups, decision trees, the shifts of the bell curve, or any of the painful drudgery he associated with large companies, the author elaborates. “He found Apple's prototype customer in the mirror and the company came to develop computers that Jobs, at one time or another, decided he would like to own.”
A book that can leave you wondering whether at all the new chief of Apple should have the iconic owner's instincts.
“The no-email policy has resulted in…”
“Better employee productivity?”
“Also, a reduced rate of attrition!”