Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Wilderness Years, 1990s version

The "wilderness years" theme is a recurring one in biographies. Famously applied to Winston Churchill, famously appropriate by Richard Nixon, it describes a period in a person's life when their initial success turns sour. But the wilderness years are often followed by even greater success. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister after his wilderness period, and Nixon succeeded in getting elected to the Presidency after his.

Another person who went through a wilderness period is Steve Jobs, which caused Edwin Watkeys to speculate:

Has a history of Jobs's time in exile been written, with an emphasis on what changed—him? the company? the industry?—that allowed him to manage Apple so successfully after returning to the company that thought it had grown beyond him?

I don't know if a full-blown history has been written, but smaller pieces have appeared.

Randall Stross says that Jobs learned a lot - not from Apple's failure, but from NeXT's failure:

Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. Almost every aspect of the machine — including the finish on interior screws — was his domain. The interior furnishings of Next’s offices, a stunning design showplace, were Mr. Jobs’s concern, too. While the company’s strategy begged to be re-examined, Mr. Jobs attended to other matters....

Kevin Compton, who was a senior executive at Businessland during the Next years, described Mr. Jobs after returning to Apple: “He’s the same Steve in his passion for excellence, but a new Steve in his understanding of how to empower a large company to realize his vision.” Mr. Jobs had learned from Next not to try to do everything himself, Mr. Compton said.

Another thing happened on the way back to Apple - Jobs tasted success in another arena:

But he progressively started to sense Pixar was going to be a lot more important to his career than he ever expected. According to many, the revelation came in January 1995, when he was invited to a Disney event in New York. In the middle of Central Park, the movie studio had set up a gigantic tent with a movie screen showing previews of the two upcoming Disney films, Pocahontas, to be released in the summer, and Toy Story, for Thanksgiving 1995.

Perhaps Woody and Buzz inspired Steve in the years to come, when Apple came calling again.
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