An exec who worked with Steve Jobs for 26 years says everyone got it wrong about him

A legend surrounds Steve Jobs. He is described as brilliant and tone-deaf, dynamic but with a sharp tongue. A bunch of movies and books have sought to describe what made Jobs, who died in 2011, so special and so different.

I just finished reading "Creativity Inc.," the excellent book by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation, and Jobs features throughout the book. He bought what became Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986 and remained involved with the company until his death.

In an afterword titled "The Steve We Knew," Catmull addresses some of the popular depictions of Jobs, and he said many of them missed the mark.

"I worked closely with Steve Jobs for twenty-six years," Catmull wrote. "To this day, for all that has been written about him, I don't believe that any of it comes close to capturing the man I knew.

"I've been frustrated that the stories about him tend to focus so narrowly on his extreme traits and the negative, difficult aspects of his personality."

Steve Jobs 10 best quotes
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Steve Jobs 10 best quotes

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

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"My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time."

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"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

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"I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."

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“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

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“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you’ve found it.”

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"Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

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“Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.”

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"You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

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"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

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The book added:

"The word genius is used a lot these days — too much, I think — but with Steve, I actually think it was warranted. Still, when I first came to know him, he was frequently dismissive and brusque. This is the part of Steve that people love to write about ... To let them drive Steve's narrative, however, it so miss the more important story. In the time I worked with Steve, he didn't just gain the kind of practical experience you would expect to acquire while running two dynamic, successful businesses; he also got smarter about when to stop pushing people and how to keep pushing them, if necessary, without breaking them. He became fairer and wiser, and his understanding of partnership deepened — in large part because of his marriage to Laurene and his relationships with the children he loved so much."

One anecdote in the book is about Jobs' design for Pixar's new office building in the late 1990s. His first attempt "was based on some peculiar ideas he had about how to force interaction among people," according to Catmull. For example, there was a single women's and single men's restroom in the building. There was protest, and Jobs backed down from his plan.

Next, he suggested separate buildings for each movie in production, so each team could have its own space. Again, Catmull was less than keen, so he took Jobs to a Disney building known as Northside. There, he saw wide-open hallways, open floor plans, and "accidental mingling" under a single roof.

After the trip, he met again with his architects, and set down the principles for a single Pixar building. It would be designed to "encourage people to mingle, meet and communicate," Catmull said. Jobs presided over every detail of the building's construction, and Pixar workers came to call the building "Steve's movie."

"I worked with Steve for more than a quarter-century — longer, I believe, than anyone else — and I saw an arc to his life that does not accord with the one-note portraits of relentless perfectionism I've read in magazines, newspapers, and even his own authorized biography," Catmull said. "Relentless Steve — the boorish, brilliant, but emotionally tone-deaf guy that we first came to know — changed into a different man during the last two decades of his life."

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