Selected Passages from Make Something Wonderful
5 min read

Selected Passages from Make Something Wonderful

Make Something Wonderful is "a curated collection of Steve [Jobs'] speeches, interviews and correspondence".

Even more importantly, it gave one the sense that one could build the things that one saw around oneself in the universe.
When I was going to school, I had a few great teachers and a lot of mediocre teachers. And the thing that probably kept me out of jail was the books. I could go and read what Aristotle or Plato wrote without an intermediary in the way. And a book was a phenomenal thing. It got right from the source to the destination without anything in the middle.

The problem was, you can’t ask Aristotle a question. And I think, as we look towards the next fifty to one hundred years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit, or an underlying set of principles, or an underlying way of looking at the world, then, when the next Aristotle comes around, maybe if he carries around one of these machines with him his whole life—his or her whole life—and types in all this stuff, then maybe someday, after this person’s dead and gone, we can ask this machine, “Hey, what would Aristotle have said? What about this?” And maybe we won’t get the right answer, but maybe we will. And that’s really exciting to me. And that’s one of the reasons I’m doing what I’m doing.
So, what do you want to talk about?
But the films were, as Steve put it, “in the background,” not the company’s focus. He described Pixar’s early business strategy as “find a way to pay the bills,” and he later speculated that the only reason the company didn’t fall apart then was that the leadership team “would all get depressed … but not all of us at once.
You could see there was magic in [a Pixar animated short film], right from the beginning. With the rest of Pixar’s technology, you had to be an expert to understand it. [… But] you didn’t have to know anything about the technology to enjoy the film. It was incredibly refreshing and really pointed the way to where we wanted to go. We didn’t want to have to convince people that our technology was great—we knew it was great. We wanted to use our technology to make something where nobody needed to know anything about the technology to love it. And that’s what we ended up doing.
And Apple was a very bottoms-up company when it came to a lot of its great ideas. And we hired truly great people and gave them the room to do great work. A lot of companies—I know it sounds crazy—but a lot of companies don’t do that. They hire people to tell them what to do. We hired people to tell us what to do. We figured we’re paying them all this money, their job is to figure out what to do and tell us. And that led to a very different corporate culture, and one that’s really much more collegial than hierarchical.
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.
I’ve heard that there are no contracts at Pixar, and that’s different than a lot of Hollywood productions. What’s the philosophy behind that?

SJ: In this blending of [cultures], one of the things that we encountered was that the Hollywood culture and the Silicon Valley culture each use different models of employee retention. Hollywood uses the stick, which is the contract. And Silicon Valley uses the carrot, which is the stock option. We examined both of those in really pretty great detail: economically, but also sort of psychologically and culture-wise. What kind of culture do you end up with?

And while there’s a lot of reasons to want to lock down your employees for the duration of a film, because if somebody leaves, you know you’re at risk, those same dangers exist in Silicon Valley. During an engineering project, you don’t want to lose people, and yet [Silicon Valley] managed to evolve another system other than contracts. And we prefer the Silicon Valley model in this case: give people stock in the company so that we all have the same goal, which is to create shareholder value.

But [not having contracts] also makes us constantly worry about making Pixar the greatest company we can, so that nobody would ever want to leave. When you sign a contract with somebody, you can sort of say, “Well, I don’t have to worry about that person for five years.” You know? And if you’re real sophisticated, you’ll have a little database that tickles you six months before their contract’s up so you can start paying them more attention. And they’re the most important person in the world for six months, and then after they sign up again, you put them in a drawer.
Our system’s a little different than that. Every single day we worry about how we can make Pixar a better company so that nobody will ever want to leave, and so we don’t take anybody for granted. Because if they don’t want to be at Pixar, then probably they should leave anyway—whether or not they would ever have a contract.
Over time, my digging in during an interview gets more precise. For example, many times in an interview I will purposely upset someone: I’ll criticize their prior work. I’ll do my homework, find out what they worked on and say, “God, that really turned out to be a bomb. That really turned out to be a bozo product. Why did you work on that?” I shouldn’t say this in your book, but the worst thing that someone can do in an interview is to agree with me and knuckle under.

What I look for is for 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. It’s also good every once in a while to really piss somebody off in an interview to see how they react because, 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.
It was the product that everybody put their heart and soul into, and it was the product that expressed their deep appreciation, somehow, for the world to see. So, in the end, it’s the work that binds. That’s why it’s so important to pick very important things to do because it’s very hard to get people motivated to make a breakfast cereal. It takes something that’s worth doing.
A “risk-taking creative environment on the product side,” he said, required a “fiscally conservative environment” on the business side. “Creative people are willing to take a leap in the air, but they need to know that the ground’s going to be there when they get back.”
[Goes upstairs, grabs Schopenhauer’s On the Suffering of the World, and then reads from it on the stairs.] “He who lives 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 to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.”