My favorite Steve Jobs story

I’m a little late to the party, but I finally read Walter Isaacson’s, Steve Jobs. It’s a scintillating read. Here’s my favorite story Isaacson shares:

When the iPhone was first conceived, it was on the heels of massively successful iPod and iTunes launches. Jobs, never one to wait for the opportunity to innovate or cannibalize his own products, decided to move forward with a phone which would combine the iPod’s music prowess with a communications device. 

Initially, the iPhone had two designs in development, one mimicking the wildly successful iPod (with a circle wheel and everything), and one more radical, utilizing a multi-touch, full screen. The circle wheel design was inherently limiting, requiring the use of the circle wheel to navigate and dial phone numbers, while the touch screen model was inherently radical and interesting. Jobs ultimately decided on the novel touch screen device. The decision presented a whole new set of questions, like what operating system to program and what physical materials to use. The iPod had, up to that point, used a plastic screen and initially that seemed useful enough for the iPhone as well, but Jobs had other plans. His unwavering commitment to beautiful designs led him to conceptualize a glass screen, which unfortunately would be much more fragile and liable to scratch. Undeterred, Jobs began researching glass design solutions. His search led him to a meeting with Wedell Weeks, the young CEO of Corning Glass. Weeks shared that Corning had developed a super-strong, even scratch-resistant glass (named ‘gorilla glass’) back in the 1960s, but they hadn’t manufactured it because there was no demand. It was exactly what Jobs was looking for, he immediately asked Weeks to produce enough, in 6 months, to supply the new iPhones at launch. Weeks quickly decried the request, saying it was simply impossible. No Corning plants were set up to manufacture gorilla glass, it couldn’t be done. Jobs “stared at Weeks, unblinking. ‘Yes, you can do it,’ he said. ‘Get your mind around it. You can do it (P472).’”

Weeks still recalls the story in astonishment. Corning converted an entire production plant in Kentucky, put their best scientists and engineers on the project, mass-produced a glass that had never been made, and fulfilled the entire initial iPhone order in under 6 months. Weeks has a plaque on his wall with the note he received from Jobs on iPhone launch day, “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Jobs encountered obstacles just like the rest of us, but this sort of response is different. Jobs saw the world as bigger, with more possibilities, and he was able to inspire his vision in other people. He certainly wasn’t gentle or subtle, in fact, he could be an incredible jerk, but people routinely report that they accomplished more than they ever thought possible when working with him. He didn’t let obstacles become excuses. He didn’t let difficulties constrain the possibilities he saw. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.”

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