Entrepreneurs

Steve Jobs learned this brilliant lesson about success as a teen, building a fence with his dad

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc, at the first West Coast Computer Faire, where the Apple II computer was debuted, in Brooks Hall, San Francisco, California, April 16th or 17th, 1977.
Tom Munnecke | Getty Images
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer Inc, at the first West Coast Computer Faire, where the Apple II computer was debuted, in Brooks Hall, San Francisco, California, April 16th or 17th, 1977.

Before Steve Jobs became the visionary founder of Apple, he was a middle-class kid growing up in California, being raised by his adoptive parents Paul and Clara Jobs.

Paul, a mechanic, had a lasting impact on Jobs' philosophy around design, and his endless pursuit of perfection — qualities that would come to define his career and success with Apple.

"Paul Jobs was a salt-of-the-earth guy who was a great mechanic, and he taught his son Steve how to make great things," biographer Walter Isaacson told CBS's "60 Minutes" in 2011. Isaacson conducted over 40 interviews with Jobs for his book, "Steve Jobs."

One lesson from Paul was particularly influential, Isaacson explains.

Growing up, Jobs once helped his father build a fence around their family home in Mountain View. While working, Paul shared a piece of advice with Jobs: "You've got to make the back of the fence, that nobody will see, just as good looking as the front of the fence," Isaacson told "60 Minutes." "Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you're dedicated to making something perfect."

The idea stuck with Jobs.

While at the helm of Apple, Jobs insisted that every element of the Macintosh computer be beautiful, down to the circuit boards inside.

"Look at the memory chips. That's ugly. The lines are too close together," Jobs said of the circuits in Isaacson's biography.

When the computer was finally perfected, Jobs had the engineers' names engraved inside each one. "Real artists sign their work," he told them, according to the book.

"No one would ever see them, but the members of the team knew that their signatures were inside, just as they knew that the circuit board was laid out as elegantly as possible," Isaacson wrote.

After leaving Apple in 1985, Jobs founded another personal computing company called NeXT, which he later sold back to Apple. There, the visionary had the same standards.

"He made sure that the screws inside the machine had expensive plating," Isaacson wrote of Jobs' NeXT computers. "He even insisted that the matte black finish be coated onto the inside of the cube's case, even though only repairmen would see it."

For Jobs, the philosophy was not about impressing other people. It was about holding yourself accountable for the quality of your work.

"When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it," Jobs told Playboy in 1985. "You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."

Jobs told Isaacson his father Paul was an example of that practice: "He loved doing things right."

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