Shortly after Steve Jobs’ death last month, a copy of a VHS tape that had long been thought lost was discovered in a London garage. On the tape was about 70 minutes of a 1995 conversation between Jobs and Robert Cringley, who used nine minutes of the footage in his PBS series Triumph of the Nerds that aired in 1996.
The master tape of the interview was lost while being shipped from London to Portland and thought to be gone forever, until Triumph director Paul Sen found the VHS copy in his garage a few weeks after Jobs’ death. He did not have a copy of any of the 124 other interviews from the series.
Last night I went to a screening of Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, Cringley’s entire unedited conversation released in various cities on Nov. 16 and 17 in Mark Cuban’s Landmark Theaters. Cringley, whom Jobs hired and fired three times, had known Jobs almost 20 years at the time of the interview. Ten years earlier, in 1985, Apple CEO John Sculley had exiled Jobs from the company.
During the film, Jobs laments Apple’s decline, predicting that it “isn’t reversible.” A 10-year stagnation in innovation had allowed Microsoft to catch up because, Jobs says, “Apple stood still.” He blames the slide on poor company leadership and complacency fostered by a lack of competition.
“The Macintosh that’s shipping today,” Jobs says at one point, “is like 25 percent different than the day I left.” He notes the ease with which monopolies or companies with substantial market share—like Apple in the 1980s and, later, Microsoft—become satisfied with simply persisting instead of innovating.
That many if not most monopolies are government-granted probably wasn’t lost on Jobs, who compared the U.S. public education system to a monopoly in another 1995 interview, this one with the Smithsonian Institution:
What happens when a customer goes away and a monopoly gets control, which is what happened in our country [with public education], is that the service level almost always goes down. I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said, “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.
More recently, Jobs was infuriated by President Obama’s obsession with “reasons why he can’t get things done” instead of focusing on what’s possible. Jobs also recently railed on Bill Gates, saying, “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once” and that Gates “just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
“The only problem with Microsoft,” Jobs says in The Lost Interview, “is they just have no taste.” His feelings toward Microsoft and Gates illustrate his motivation for inventing and tweaking products that continue to better the lives of Apple customers. Most people were (and probably still are) content to use inelegant, frustrating devices and software. They don’t know or don’t care that there’s a better way to process words than Word.
Jobs had a vision of creating tools that upgrade not only the way we do things like process words and communicate via phone but also improve, he hoped, humanity. “The way that we’re going to ratchet up our species,” he says, “is to take the best and spread it around to everybody so that everybody grows up with better things.” An unceasing devotion to solving problems and creating new possibilities—an obsession with the idea that “there’s got to be a better way”—consumed Jobs.
About two years after the “lost interview,” Jobs would return to Apple, which was 90 days from bankruptcy at the time. He eventually transformed it into the most valuable company in America—after he transformed the way we operate computers, listen to music, use phones, and interact with each other and the world around us.
Read more Reason on Steve Jobs, and watch the The Lost Interview trailer below: