I was a young CEO, and I needed answers. Steve Jobs had them. There was only one thing to do: Send a FedEx letter. Then I sent another. Then I started calling. Then I sent another FedEx and called some more.
Finally, after sending many FedExes and 12 phone calls, Steve’s assistant said he wanted to talk with me.
“You keep sending FedExes and calling. So let’s end it. What do you want?” Steve said, with his characteristic charm.
“Five minutes of your time. I really admire your accomplishments, and as a young CEO I have a few questions no one else can answer.”
“Bring a timer.”
“I will. Oh-and thanks.” He had already hung up.
My surface agenda was to get five minutes of advice, watch how Steve’s mind worked, bask in his brilliance, and then have a breakthrough.
My subterranean agenda was to find hope again. It was the early 1990s, and I’d left my engineering post at Microsoft. I was depressed. Why weren’t we changing the world as fast and as well as we could? All I saw were the limitations of software, hardware, peripherals. I’d left feeling frustrated after years of 12- to 14-hour days writing code that wasn’t changing the world.
Remember those chunky, white, metal kitchen timers from your childhood-the ones with the dial and the “ticka, ticka sound” and the “bing!” ringer? Two weeks later, timer in hand, I shake Steve’s hand and set the dial for five minutes. We’re at a dark conference table at NeXT. He is slouching at the head of the table. Ticka, ticka, ticka.
Insights on the clock
During this conversation, which was almost 18 years ago, Steve shared his vision of the future.
And it was glorious. He described a world where computers were so seamlessly integrated into our lives that everything was easily accessible. He described the iPod, iPad, and iPhone nearly two decades before they hit the market. I watched how his brain freely moved from what might enhance a customer’s life, to how they would benefit, to how this would change the world.
He didn’t question if what he envisioned could, and would, be created. He didn’t agonize over current limitations that might hold him back.
I could feel my brain expanding; it felt so big around Steve, so open and limitless. I was tracking him, following his twists, turns, expansions. I felt so smart around him, and it was glorious and freeing and….
Ticka, ticka, ticka…ding! My five minutes was up. I rose to leave, bowing a little as I backed away.
“I’m not done with you yet. Sit down.”
And zoom! We were back in brain expansion mode immediately, flying into the future, the wind blowing our hair, everything possible, and everything important. And we needed to create it. It was our destiny.
Forty-five minutes later, Steve released me. Sitting in my overheated car in the sunny Redwood City parking lot, my head bursting with the remarkable, complex, complete vision of Steve Jobs in my head, I made a commitment.
I would no longer see barricades. Stumbling blocks would now be seen as stepping stones to something better, or something to crawl over or walk around. Previous limitations would now be trivial, or at worst a slight inconvenience. There were insanely great things to create, and we were here to create them. All thoughts to the contrary were irrelevant.
That’s how I still live today.
Want to meet your “Steve Jobs”?
Three steps to get a meeting with any VIP
1. Find out what causes they care about. Write a half- to one-page genuine letter about their specific accomplishments you admire. Offer five hours of your time to their favorite non-profit for five minutes of theirs.
2. Send your letter via FedEx. Call to confirm receipt and bond with their assistant. Call first thing in the A.M. or last thing in the P.M. They’re more likely to answer then.
3. Repeat step 2 until you get a meeting. If this doesn’t work, give them the letter by hand at an event they are speaking at. Then repeat step 2.
In 30 years in business the approach above has always worked for me. The key is the letter. Be authentic, heartfelt, compelling. Make it a work of art.
Thanks, Steve, for bringing back my faith in technology, in innovation, in possibility. Oh-and I’m sorry I stalked you.