world business forum sydney: steve wozniak on the makings of a successful innovation process.

29/05/2015 15:52:13

The pioneer who co-founded Apple and became a Silicon Valley icon, Steve Wozniak, shared his thoughts at the World Business Forum on his early years, his career ambition, his friendship with Steve Jobs; the founding of Apple; and the entrepreneurial spirit which imprinted a long lasting culture in an innovative company.

Wozniak grew up in Silicon Valley when it was just fruit orchards yet as engineers moved in to the area with their families, the industry started to grow, and half the kids his age were electronics kids. Because electronics were fun. They did not teach it at school but Steve and his friends made ‘stuff’, and found ways to link their houses so they could communicate in the middle of the night. He knew early in his life he wanted to be an engineer because he always wanted to make things work.

When Steve was at college he actually taught himself with pen and paper how to make computers. He was soon approached by Hewlett Packard (HP) as they heard he was good at designing and making computers. HP then hired him while he was still in college to design a scientific calculator. And because he was a geek, he designed calculators during the day at HP and then he’d create and designed his own projects at night.

Wozniak says he was very lucky to join HP – he loved working there especially because he was able to have a say in what HP made. They had great vision and great values which he respected and he truly wanted to be an engineer for life at HP.

Knowing that Wozniak knew how to design computers, someone suggested he should meet a guy called Steve Jobs, because he was also interested in computers. They became friends – Jobs was 16 and Wozniak was 20. Wozniak referred to this time as Jobs 0 – the Steve Jobs which not many people knew, as people only knew about Jobs 1 (early years at HP and Apple) and Jobs 2 (mature, successful, cultural icon).

Wozniak and Jobs became really great friends, sharing all their experiences like great friends do as young adults. They loved to prank people and would share all their stories about pranks they made and ones they could do together. They went to concerts together, discussed religious philosophy, and talked about the great masters and minds of the world. Wozniak said Jobs really admired great people – people who have made a great impact on the world. He was so curious about how and why they achieved what they did.

Together Jobs and Wozniak worked on an electronic device which when inserted into the telephone would make tones in the phones and would allow you to call anywhere in the world for free. Wozniak was the brains behind the technology and Jobs would help fund and produce it.

One day Wozniak was inspired when at the local a bowling alley amongst the pinball and games machines he saw a computer game which had a TV screen connected to it. That excited him as it was the first time he realised what could be, what he knew and what he didn’t know. He realised he knew how to build a computer from the inside, but didn’t really consider the outside – the output. So the fact you could attach a computer to a screen really excited him.

He then worked on creating a computer where you could type on a keyboard and see it on a screen. All he needed was a screen, a keyboard and a few one dollar microchips. This ended up being the formula for a personal computer.

At the computer club he went to, everyone would be crowded around him, looking at his creation. Jobs then suggested they start a company together to sell his products. Wozniak points out that interestingly Jobs never suggested it be an IT company, it would be a company to sell Wozniaks products.

The first product they sold together was the Apple I. The Apple II was a triumph. It was a product he created from the ground up and was so much more powerful than the Apple I, it was in colour and would allow you to animate and write code for games.

Wozniak and Jobs approached HP to sell their concept of their Apple computer, and were turned down five times. It was so new, so different they couldn’t see how it would be a success. Yet Wozniak and Jobs completely believed in the product.

Wozniak and Jobs were arguably one of the most successful business partnerships of all time. And he believes partnerships are great in business, even suggesting 3 people would be a great combination. He says if you have great ideas, you need other people to bounce them off, to ground you and bring in their specific expertise. Starting a business, he says you need a lot of discipline. And you need to know how to bring all the parts of the business together. In his case - operations, finance, engineers, business people, marketing etc. But to begin, it was just the two of them. Wozniak focused on the engineering side and Jobs focused on people operations, marketing and business development. He found that by asking lots of questions from experts, he learned to do what they do.

Wozniak says everyone will always have their own ideas and engineers might at times hate marketing, but he never took sides. And both he and Jobs never had any fights or arguments throughout the years. He understood that everything engineers think and do will not always make sense to the end-user. So the manager is key. He believes the lowest level manager should have as much responsibility as the most senior level managers as this is what will bring success for everyone. It’s how you keep excellence in the business and it’s even better if the person at the top helps makes that happen.

When apple started and they needed investment to growth the business, the investor, who was also an engineer, said to both Wozniak and Jobs that the business would be ‘a market driven company’ i.e. marketing driven. And Wozniak says that any setbacks or failures they had over the years was a result of marketing mistakes they made, rather than a result of poor product development.

Innovation needs to infiltrate in the company from the top down and Wozniak says you need time to innovate. To really think about where you’re going, how to disrupt the market or how it will be disrupted. To do this effectively you really need to clear out your head. Start with a clean slate, and think about how you would set up your business from the ground up today to prepare for the future. See where it takes you.

And people need to listen to you, because new technology is coming into play to make new things possible. With the pace of technological advancement, new abilities and approaches are possible.

Most of us are just used to doing things one way and we cannot see how to do it differently, simply because our brains are not wired to be open to new and different things. It really can be difficult to rewire our brains this way, but his message is to stick with it. Interestingly though, he did say we need to realise sometimes when you tackle the impossible it actually is impossible.

What does the future hold? According to Wozniak, it’s artificial intelligence and the internet of things – self driving vehicles, robots and items organising your life, rather than the other way round. And things will be even more immediate – I can see us ordering items online and they’ll be delivered in 15 minutes via drones. Virtual reality will create the most amazing games. Computers will get to the stage where they learn and start programming themselves. They will soon start doing things that replicate thinking. And this means they’ll make themselves better than we can. Just imagine it and it’s possible.

When asked about the threat of China on production and competition, he said the world is one. So he says when he’s asked where he’s from, his answer is ‘planet earth’. But we may soon find him living on our shores, as he said ‘he will live and die an Australian.’

In terms of privacy and security, he says just know you’ll never know if someone is watching. We all need to accept this even though we may not agree with it.

One thing left me thinking... was after Steve Jobs passed away, Wozniak found himself thinking about how they both would have never imagined their concepts and entrepreneurial spirit which was an industry milestone, could have turned into what it is today – a cultural icon.



Randstad is proud to be a major sponsor of the World Business Forum in Sydney 27-28 May 2015. 

Steve Wozniak
In 1976, Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. with Wozniak's Apple I personal computer. The following year, he introduced his Apple II personal computer, featuring a central processing unit, a keyboard, colour graphics and a floppy disk drive. The Apple II, which combined Wozniak's brilliant engineering with Jobs' aesthetic sense, was integral in launching the personal computer industry. When the company went public in 1980, its market value exceeded $1 billion, at the time the fastest rise to that milestone in corporate history

Engineer / inventor / fifth-grade teacher / philanthropist, Wozniak is personally invested in making the world a better place. Since his groundbreaking work at Apple, he has been involved in many business and philanthropic ventures, dedicating himself to making technology functionally and financially accessible to all.