On April 11th of 1983, one year before debuting the first Macintosh computer, John Sculley became the CEO of Apple, where he would work very closely with Steve Jobs and observe him in action.
Sculley had been the CEO of Pepsi Co. at the time and, after several meetings with the late Steve Jobs between 1982 and 1983, the Apple co-founder convinced Sculley to come on board.
“We got to know each other very, very well, but at the end of it I said, ‘Steve, I’ve thought about it and I’m not coming to Apple,'” Sculley told CNBC’s Make It.
“Steve paused and thought for a while, and then he was about 18 inches away from me — and in those days he was in his 20s and he had jet black hair, very dark eyes and he was right in my face — and he said, ‘You want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?'”
Sculley would go on to be CEO of Apple for 10 years, and, during that time, learn several incredible lessons from Jobs while building Apple into a household name.
Steve’s passion was to ‘put a dent in the universe.’ Those were his words. And he was willing to do whatever it took.
– John Sculley
1. Curiosity + ideals = change the world
Sculley says that the single most important lesson he learned from Jobs was the power of an insatiable curiosity combined with a burning desire to change the world.
“Steve’s passion was to ‘put a dent in the universe.’ Those were his words. And he was willing to do whatever it took. He was willing to set his personal life aside, he was willing to be incredibly demanding to people who worked with him,” Sculley says.
Jobs accomplished an incredible amount in his lifetime, however, he was known for being quite hard to work with. Whatever it took, Jobs was going to accomplish his goal.
“On the one hand, it led to the design principles that you see with iPhones today, you know where there are no compromises on the good finish design or on the user experience or the software. On the other hand, the work environment working with Steve was not the easiest at times because he was extremely tough to make sure that there were never any compromises,” says Sculley.
2. An attitude of service
Another life-changing lesson Sculley learned from Jobs was the attitude of service both Jobs and Bill Gates share and these leaders’ devotion to a noble cause — as opposed to the drab competitive landscape Sculley had seen at Pepsi.
One night in the Mac engineering lab, just a few months into his term as CEO, Sculley was fortunate enough to sit in on a conversation between Jobs and Bill Gates.
“Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were talking about their ‘noble cause,'” says Sculley. “I had never heard the words ‘noble cause’ in business in my entire life.”
As I listen to them, they said, ‘We’re creating,’ — Steve and Bill — ‘an entirely new industry that never existed before.’ I’d never worked on trying to create a new industry before. I had always worked in the soft drink industry where it was Coke versus Pepsi, it was called the Cola Wars,” reminisced Sculley.
And so as I listened to them and they said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to empower individuals with tools for the mind. It’s going to be done on something we call a personal computer, it’s going to be more about software than hardware and we’re going to change the world one person at a time.’
And it was so different than anything I’d ever heard about a business before, coming from a highly competitive industry — someone wins someone loses — to now where two geniuses were saying they’re going to create an entirely new industry, they were going to change the world.
“That kind of missionary capability stuck with me,” Sculley says.
This kind of attitude of service, commitment to a vision, and a noble cause were characteristic of Jobs and a big part of why he became– and continues to be– so revered in the Silicon Valley scene.
3. Adjusting perspective with ‘Zooming’
According to Sculley, Jobs was a master of altering his perspective based on the situation with a process called “zooming” – either by zooming out or zooming in.
“Steve connected those dots between calligraphy, laser printing and computers that could be cheap enough and easy enough to use for non-technical people, and so that was the vision– that was the zooming out,” Sculley says.
By constantly adjusting his perspective so that he was able to look at things in a new light, Jobs was able to not only envision desktop publishing on the Mac, but also figure out creative solutions:
“Steve would say that simplification is the ultimate sophistication, meaning that once you know how the dots connect, even if it cuts across industries that previously had never had a connection with one another, then you have to simplify it and make the solution so simple that even non-technical people will be able to use your tools and be able to be motivated to do amazing things with them,” says Sculley.
This use of zooming, whether zooming out to look at things with from a higher perspective to piece together new solutions, or zooming in to identify new and better ways of making something work, was a big part of Jobs’ genius.