How Steve Jobs’s Wilderness Years Show Us How To Move Forward

Much has been written about Jobs since his death last October. But no journalist knew him the way Brent Schlender did.

How Steve Jobs’s Wilderness Years Show Us How To Move Forward

Photo by Benjamin Lowy

When I switched schools after the ninth grade, I had to say goodbye to my buddy Ian. There was no
Facebook back then, no easy way to stay connected. You can imagine my surprise, then, when on the first day of 10th grade, Ian showed
up at the new school too. Fate has intervened repeatedly since then. We’ve experienced weddings and funerals, highs and lows. We’ve
lived close by and a continent apart. There’s almost nothing we don’t know about each other. In many ways, we know one another better
than we know ourselves.


That’s the kind of relationship Brent Schlender had with Steve Jobs. For decades, they shared confidences and
experiences; Schlender as he rose from The Wall Street Journal to Fortune, Jobs as he launched Apple, left, and then triumphantly

Much has been written about Jobs since his death last October. But no journalist knew him the way Schlender did. In
recent months, Schlender has been poring over tapes he made of their conversations, some of which had never been transcribed, others of
which lay forgotten at the bottom of old file drawers. He’s been reflecting on his friend’s legacy, sifting for the most important

Jorge Colombo, who created the illustrations that accompany our Steve Jobs cover story, does much of his work on the iPad, using an app called Brushes. | photo by an rong xu

The result, as seen in ” ‘I Just Knew in My Bones That This Was Going to Be Very Important,’ “ is a reconsideration of Jobs by the journalist who knew him best. Schlender’s piece, buttressed with ample quotes from those tapes,
suggests that a true appreciation and understanding of Jobs’s growth process has been missing. (The iPad edition of this issue includes
audio from these never-before-heard tapes.) In particular, Schlender is drawn to the period before Jobs’s second run at Apple, and most
specifically to his experiences with Pixar, as the critical maturation period in Jobs’s outlook, philosophy, and management
perspective. All the attributes that made the Jobs II era at Apple different–and more successful–than the Jobs I era, Schlender argues,
find their roots in Pixar.


It is unusual for an outlet like Fast Company, which focuses so relentlessly on what is coming next, to look
back–let alone look back 20 years–for insight. As I stressed in my February cover story on Generation Flux, nostalgia for the past is a
dangerous tendency in times of rapid change like we are experiencing today. But gleaning lessons from an ahead-of-his-time leader is
not the same thing as nostalgia. The many Apple-inspired ecosystems that are now driving our economy forward might not have come to be
were it not for the lessons Jobs learned in the mid-1990s.

Not that everything Jobs believed back then has come to pass—nor have all his other predictions proved prescient, as the interview excerpts included alongside Schlender’s article illustrate (see “The Things Jobs Missed”). At the same time, the evolving nature of Jobs’s assessments, seen in their real-time vernacular, show just how important iterative thinking was to his success—and to the mind-set that is required in today’s flux-heavy world.


Get our iPad app to hear excerpts from “The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes”, along with a special podcast with never-before-heard audio.


About the author

Robert Safian is the editor and managing director of The Flux Group. From 2007 through 2017, Safian oversaw Fast Company’s print, digital and live-events content, as well as its brand management and business operations