Reinventing Steve Jobs

After finding the missing pieces of himself through Laurene and his biological family, Steve came back to Apple with a fresh, more magnanimous philosophy towards his old rival.

The bitter drama between him and Bill in the 1980s was detailed in a telemovie called Pirates of Silicon Valley.[1] The film was nominated for five Emmy awards. Actor Noah Wyle portrayed Steve. Like Steve, the handsome actor is a fellow vegan Californian who has spent lots of time in therapy (Noah had bought Bo Derek's ranch - the same one Steve had visited). The day after Steve watched Pirates, he called Noah and asked him to impersonate him at the next Macworld conference. This was the last thing Noah expected. Dressed in Steve's iconic black turtleneck and blue jeans, Noah leapt on stage, steepled his hands like Steve does, and began the signature spiel about Apple's "really, totally, wildly, insanely great new products." The crowd was in fits of laughter. Steve interrupted the parody by running on stage and yelling, "That's not me at all. You're blowing it! You’re supposed to come over here… open a water,” he demonstrates how to sip from a water bottle as a dramatic prop, "get the slide clicker… THEN you can put your hands together… This ‘insanely great’ thing we stopped using it a hundred years ago!” The audience laughs along with a man who has learnt not to take himself so seriously anymore. Steve turns to his audience, puts an arm around Noah and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce Noah Wyle. I invited him so he can see how I really act - and because he's a better me than me." Noah says, “I’m just glad you’re not mad about the movie”. Steve feigns confusion, “What me? Mad?” The crowd laughs at the inside joke.

“It’s just a movie.”

Steve turned the television portrayal from tragedy to comedy. He took ownership of his public image. He wanted the world to know he was a changed man, and Apple was to change accordingly.

During his first Macworld speech since reuniting with Apple Steve dined like a king on the crowd’s adulation. He owned the stage like a world champion oratory boxer. Like a title fight, the stage is constantly lit up by camera flash. However, toward the end of his keynote, he had some tough news for his loyal fans. When it was time to announce the bitter pill, his presence devolved into a nervous school principal trying to appease an unruly mob of teenagers. His speech was suddenly filled with filibuster as if he delaying the crowd’s reaction.

“Now I'd like to talk about meaningful partners. Apple lives in an ecosystem, and…” He takes a long sip from a glass of water like a defense council about to tackle a difficult case. 

…it needs help from other partners. It needs to help other partners, and relationships that are destructive, uh, don't help anybody in this industry as it is today. So, uh, during the last several weeks, we have looked at some of the relationships, and, uh, one has stood out as a relationship that, uh, hasn't been going so well but had the potential, I think, to be great for both companies, and I'd like to, uh, announce one of our first partnerships today, a very, very meaningful one. And that is one with Microsoft.

There is much growling and snarling from the old guard. Then Steve does what body language expert, Allan Pease describes as a partial arm-cross barrier. He is afraid, but trying not to show it.[2] He talks over the noise, “I'd like to take you through this.” Steve offers to hold our hands through the dark. “The discussions actually began because there were some patent disputes. And, rather than ...” There is an explosion of indignant laughter. Steve smiles awkwardly, “I know…” he seemed to anticipate the venom at this point. Again, he talks over the rabble, 

…Rather than, uh, repeating history, I'm extremely proud of both companies that they have resolved these differences in a very, very professional way... and I happen to have a special guest with me today, uh, via satellite downlink. And if we could get him up on the stage right now ... 

Bill appeared on the huge screen behind Steve. This made Bill look like Big Brother. The 1984 irony was not lost on the crowd. They roared vehemently. Here was a leader trying to preach a new bible to the un-converted; but a rare example of thoughtless staging had ruined the moment. The Pirates movie jumped onto the symbolism of a thirty-foot image of Bill looking down on Steve. This became the film's conclusive statement. It cemented the idea that Bill was Steve's new overlord. This was great cinematic drama; but the truth was much more profound. Steve was courageous enough to ask Apple to let go of conflict, let go of blame, embrace old rivals, and look within to find its true north again. The person he wished this change upon the most was himself. After Bill spoke, Steve politely thanked him, and turned his attention to the stadium full of people:

We have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Microsoft to win Apple has to lose [cheering]. We have to embrace a notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job [more cheering], and if others are going to help us, that’s great, because we need all the help we can get, and if we screw up and we don’t do a good job, it’s not somebody else’s fault. It’s our fault [Much more cheering].

Like an alchemist turning lead into gold, Steve changed the crowd’s mind on Microsoft. The clamour of support was deafening.

A decade later Steve recollects: "Apple had to remember who Apple was because they’d forgotten who Apple was… so I called Bill up and we tried to patch things up".[3] In the 1970s, Apple, Microsoft, and all the other burgeoning Silicon Valley start-ups were promoted by Regis McKenna. The old spin veteran had this to say about Steve’s new and improved image, "Steve has matured. You know how I can tell? He asked lots of people for advice when he returned to Apple and actually listened to them. He's learned from his mistakes. What better accolade can you give him?"[4] Is Steve calling in favours from old allies to spread the word that Evil Steve is dead and buried? As Verbal said in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”

[1] Haft Entertainment (Producer). (1999) Pirates of Silicon Valley [DVD].

[2] Pease, A. (2006) The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York: Bantam.

[3] Israelson, A. (2007, May 31) TRANSCRIPT–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at D5. d5.allthingsd.com. Retrieved from http://d5.allthingsd.com/20070531/d5-gates-jobs-transcript/

[4] Schlender, B. (1998, November 9) The Three Faces Of Steve. Fortune Magazine.

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