The following is an experience of an Apple ex-employee, who used to deliver presentations to Steve Jobs on a regular basis.
I worked at Apple, and had to present to Steve every now and then.
The first time we met, he walked into the room, looked around, realized that I was new, walked up to me and asked (all in one breath), “Are you smart? Do you know what you are talking about? Are you going to waste my time?”
Instead of responding right away, I decided to consider what if anything I was going to say. But since I did not respond right away, Steve said, “Good, let’s get started.” I wonder how that meeting would have gone if I had tried to say something instead…
I presented new technology to him a number of times. Sometimes it was my ideas, and sometimes it was the work my team did (My team always did exceptional work. The people that reported to me were outstanding, and it was an honor to manage them.).
We were in a meeting one time, and Steve commented on how much he hated the ‘wart’ that was the external iSight camera. I said, “I can make it internal.” Steve asked how long it would take to have a prototype ready. My team worked on it (with many other teams both software and hardware), and we developed a prototype. We had the demo set up and ready to go for the next day. The only ‘glitch’ we had not anticipated was one of the software guys upgraded the OS on the machine AFTER we had run through the demo and felt it was ready. So the next day when we showed it to Steve, there was a color shift in the video we had not seen the day before. He asked why, and the software engineer spoke up and said he had updated the OS and it probably changed the gamma settings. Steve I think was more amused, and just said, “Get things right, and show it to me again.”
Another time, I was presenting a feature for Motion I came up with. Real-time, green-screen, high-definition chroma-keying in software. Steve asked me in the presentation if another company could come up with this feature. I said, “Well, since I thought of it, I imagine someone else could come up with the idea, but it is rather unlikely that they could solve it the same way I did.” (By the way, the ‘peanut gallery’ of VPs and Directors standing behind Steve tried to tell me how to answer Steve’s question. The problem was, half of them were nodding yes, and the other half were shaking their heads no.) Steve decided that since it was hard to duplicate, that instead of going for a patent on it, we were going to keep it a trade secret. And as far as I know, no one has been able to duplicate the real-time, green-screen, high-definition chroma-keying feature in software… (the key being real-time).
Over the years, I (and members of my team) did dozens of presentations for Steve. My team was responsible for products like the Mac Mini, Apple TV, and creating many product prototypes…
Steve was wicked smart. I was always amazed at how sharp he was and how quickly he could focus on what was important. I don’t know ANYONE that even comes close to how good he was at being able to do that.
Most of my presentations were to Jony Ive. Jony is a wonderful person to work with. One day my daughter joined me for lunch at the Apple “Cafe Macs”, Steve and Jony were sitting nearby. My daughter was going to school for design illustration and asked if she could say hi to Jony. I took her over and expected just to say hi, and leave. But Jony was charming and chatted with my daughter for about 45 minutes. I was noticing that Steve was growing more and more impatient, but also since they were talking about what made a good design, I think Steve was being more tolerant. Finally, Steve suggested to Jony that they had to get going, and Jony wrapped up his discussion with my daughter. She was floating out of the cafe. Jony is a really nice and thoughtful person. And I really appreciated him taking that time to really talk with my daughter.