Why Apple’s ‘other’ Steve is my new BFF

Like the rest of the Western world it seems, I’m an admirer I am of the late Steve Jobs, in whom a ‘perfect storm’ of creative ideas, business savvy, the ability to see around corners, understanding of culture and motivational skills were all bubbling around to quite mind-blowing effect. There’s barely a day passes by even now, three years after he died, that his name doesn’t crop up in posts with his words of wisdom. Knowing how much his legacy still resonates through the world of tech and beyond, I sometimes feel for his successor, Tim Cook, who must wake up every morning wondering if he is destined to be forever in the shadow of the great Apple leader. Which is a subject for a later bog posting in itself, I think…

This week I read that his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was going to be talking about innovation and creativity at next year’s NAMM show (a music business trade event, apparently), I wanted to know more about him. Jobs got about a squillion column inches out of Apple. But Wozniak? I’ve rarely heard him mentioned.

I love learning more about people who’ve led interesting lives, because there’s always something we can glean. And the more I read about ‘Woz’ the more I liked him. He first teamed up with Jobs when Jobs was at school and Wozniak, who’s five years older, was at college: they were two tech geeks who liked the same music and soon started doing daft techie pranks together, such as making free long-distance phone calls to total strangers with a gadget of theirs called a ‘blue box’. When they started Apple in 1976, Jobs, according to Wozniak, saw Apple as a way to be successful business leader. Woz, for his part, never wanted anything to do with the limelight and preferred to get on with his engineering “because no one could beat me at engineering.”

In a candid interview from a couple of years back, Wozniak explained that the young Jobs didn’t really have much of a clue about how to run a business when he first started and would ask endless questions to find out about things like marketing. It’s one of the reasons I so like Steve Jobs – he was never one to shy away from asking questions and seemed to positively revel in the idea of putting people together to see what happened. Jobs, as I say, we know all about – so what exactly did Woz do?

Well, he was the tinkerer, the hands-on technical genius while Jobs set about building the brand. Woz created the Apple II, widely credited as the machine that kickstarted the home computer revolution. And before Apple, he designed the Atari video game Breakout (the one where you move your paddle to bounce a ball into a pile of overhanging bricks).

In his own cool, quiet way, he is supremely creative – at a technical, mathematical level. He was the yin to Jobs’ yang, and for a while at least it seemed to work. “We added up to the total of everything that was needed,” said Wozniak in 2009.

Wozniak stopped working full time for the company more than 25 years ago, although he does, apparently, still retain a stipend. While some way short of the billions that Jobs is said to have made, I read that the lesser-remembered Steve still lives a very comfortable life, and I think he’s a great reminder of how some of the world’s best double acts, so to speak, achieve greatness – specifically because they so perfectly complement each other. Two Steve Jobs would have been a disaster, which is a sobering though when hiring, perhaps. Do you really want your new partner to be exactly like you?

If you like the sound of Woz, here’s a short film of him from back in 1984 (yes, he looks like one of The Bee Gees). And if by some miracle you’re passing the NAMM event next year, I’m itching to hear what Apple’s ‘other’ Steve has to say so let me know!

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