Power Players

Guy Kawasaki: At Apple, 'you had to prove yourself every day, or Steve Jobs got rid of you'

Credit: Portfolio/Penguin Random House

I worked at Apple from 1983 to 1987, and then from 1995 to 1997. Although I refer to these stints as "two tours of duty," it was a privilege and an honor to work there. In many ways, I am who I am and where I am because of Steve Jobs and Apple.

One day sometime in 1984, Jobs appeared in my cubicle with a man I didn't know. He didn't introduce him — Jobs wasn't long on social niceties. Instead, he asked, "What do you think of a company called Knoware?"

Most people would have taken a long pause before giving an answer. Would I be punished for giving my true (and harsh) opinions? Or should I give a neutral and safe answer?

I went with the truth

I told Jobs that the company's products were mediocre, boring, and simplistic and that the company was not strategic for us. After all, they didn't take advantage of the Mac graphical user interface and other advanced features.

In the Macintosh Division, you had to prove yourself every day, or Jobs got rid of you
Guy Kawasaki
author, "Wise Guy: Lessons from Life"

After my diatribe, Jobs said to me, "I want you to meet the CEO of Knoware, Archie McGill." I shook his hand, and Steve said to him, "See? That's what I told you."

Thank you, Steve.

If I had said nice things about the crappy Knoware products, Jobs would have, at a minimum, decided that I was clueless, and that would have limited my career at Apple. At worst, he would have said that I was s--- and fired me later that day, if not on the spot.

Ex-Apple engineer reveals what it was like to pitch Steve Jobs

In the Macintosh Division, you had to prove yourself every day, or Jobs got rid of you. He demanded excellence and kept you at the top of your game. It wasn't easy to work for him; it was sometimes unpleasant and always scary, but it drove many of us to do the finest work of our careers.

I wouldn't trade working for him for any job I've ever had — and I don't know anyone in the Macintosh Division who would.

Lying won't get you anywhere

Here's what I learned from my experience at Apple and working with Jobs:

  1. Tell the truth. Honesty is a test of your competence and character. You need intelligence to recognize what is true, and you need strength to speak it.
  2. The wiser the person, the more they yearn for the truth. Telling people that their product is good in order to be kind or positive doesn't help them improve it — much less impress or fool people like Jobs.
  3. Honesty is not only better, it's also easier than lying. There's only one truth, so being consistent is simple if you're honest. If you are not honest, you have to concoct a lie and then keep track of what you said.

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva. Previously, Kawasaki was chief evangelist of Apple. He has written 14 books, including "The Art of the Start," "Selling the Dream" and his latest, "Wise Guy: Lessons from a Life." Follow him on Twitter @GuyKawasaki.

*This is an adapted excerpt from "Wise Guy: Lessons from a Life," by Guy Kawasaki, and with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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