💠 Sunday Scaries (12/13/20)

Stories from Steve Jobs

Hi everyone,

Writing to you from Los Angeles, CA.

This time of year always makes me feel reflective. Each December, I write a letter to myself. In that letter I describe how I’d like to spend the following year.

Here’s the twist: instead of writing in the future tense (“next year, I will…”), I pretend as though it’s the end of next year, and I’m writing in the past (“This year, I accomplished…”)

This framing makes things feel more concrete. I highly recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking to build a personal writing habit. If nothing else, it’s an amusing way to compare your expectations to reality, especially when a year like this one blows most plans to smithereens.

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Lately, I’ve been rereading Walter Isaacson’s fantastic biography of Steve Jobs. Like most stories about Steve, it’s filled with stories of a man that was both caring and callous. You’ll find a few anecdotes from the book in this week’s edition.


In This Week’s Edition:

The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be (1983)

Jobs spoke at the 1983 International Design Conference in Aspen about the future of computing. At the time he was leading the development of the Macintosh project, a rowdy band of rebels building the first mainstream computer with a graphical user interface.

The crowd was not full of technologists — quite the opposite in fact. Steve opens that talk with the following quote:

How many of you have seen an electron?

That's the problem with computers: you can't get your hands on the actual things that are moving around. It can be very intimidating.

He goes on to explain how computers will become a central fixture of our lives, even bigger than automobiles:

If you've looked at computers, they all look like garbage. All the great industrial designers are building automobiles and builidngs. But here's the problem: next year we're going to sell 3 million computers, regardless of whether or not they look like shit. But these machines are going to be on everyone's desk. And right now there's a chance that it will look like garbage.

In a few years, people will be spending more time working on their computers than they do in their car. I think we have a chance in the new computing technology to make these things beautiful and to make them communicate something to the average person.

Lindy score: 2060


You Can Pick Your Friends…

I came across two amazing visuals that both tell the same story: who we spend time with throughout our lives.

The first is from Our World In Data, a non-profit that collects and organizes data on the world’s toughest problems:

The second illustration is less quantitative, but it invokes an emotional response that the first graph lacks. It’s from line artist Olivia de Recat, and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all week:

Lindy score: 2022


Pixar Letter To Shareholder (1997)

Shortly after the release of their first blockbuster (Toy Story), Pixar went public, becoming the highest-grossing IPO of the year.

Steve wrote a letter to shareholders, outlining his vision for the fledgling studio. He had just renegotiated a deal with Disney which allowed Pixar to split proceeds from future films 50/50 (prior to Toy Story’s release, the deal limited Pixar’s upside to 12.5% of ticket sales).

The most compelling part of the letter is the focus on positioning Pixar as a high-quality brand, right alongside Disney. From the letter:

All products from the partnership will be equally co-branded, from the films to the toothbrushes. This Will Place Pixar’s brand prominently on all of our products – right beside the Disney brand, one of the most respected and trusted brands in the world.

In what would go on to become a famous maxim, Jobs also emphasized the importance of saying no to things outside of your core competency. When addressing why they chose to remain with Disney at all, rather than going direct, he wrote:

We also took stock of our uniqueness. There are at least six studios capable of marketing and distributing major motion pictures (Disney, Warner, Paramount, Fox, Sony and Universal). And there is only one studio that has created a fully computer animated feature film (Pixar). Diverging our management attention away from doing what only Pixar can do in order to become beginners at marketing and distribution seem like a bad idea to us. Nor did we want our culture to change. Pixar is in unique blend of animators, visual artists, story artists, scientists, engineers and production managers. Distribution involves different skills, and we were concerned that adding them to our cultural mix at this time would be disruptive. Creating is different than selling.

Different indeed. Pixar’s IPO made Jobs a billionaire, and his 80% stake in the company gave him the financial freedom to take bets on a new type of media that blended art and technology.

The final page of the letter includes an illustration, showing a toothy Jobs smiling at the camera:


Thanks for reading,

Phil