Exclusive: Apple ‘was Steve Jobs’ therapy’

Grace Robinson
4 November, 2011
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Steve Jobs founded Apple from a desire to prove his self worth and overcome a personal struggle with being adopted, according to Jobs’ college roommate and close friend Daniel Kottke.

In an exclusive interview with Macworld Australia, Kottke – who was Apple employee No.12 and also part of the original Mac design team –  reveals that Steve Jobs spent thousands of dollars undergoing alternative therapy in a bid to cope with his adoption and confront the feelings of insecurity that resulted.

The wide-ranging interview touches on the friendship between Daniel and Steve in the early years before Apple was created and the untimely fallout between the two that destroyed their friendship. Daniel also reveals that although they had discussed a reconciliation in recent times, he never got the chance to say goodbye before Jobs died.

The full interview can be heard below.

 

Interview transcript

Have you read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs?

No.

Do you intend to?

Oh sure. I’m thinking he was going to send me a free copy.

Did you contribute or have any involvement with the biography?

He interviewed me for hours.

And what did you talk about?

He asked many, many questions.  He was a good interviewer. He kept asking me to describe a vignette. Which I thought was a good idea.

One of the things that the book does touch on and which has generated a lot of buzz in the media is the use of drugs, and Steve does point to drug experimentation in the book as one of the most important, pivotal experiences of his life.  What do you think he meant by that?

Well, because he’s talking about psychedelics, and psychedelics put you in touch with the infinite well of creativity of the universe. Among other things, I would say.

And that, I guess, would have played a part in the creation of Apple and creating a space to discuss, design and think in terms of technology, do you think?

Yeah.

Well, one of the experiences that you did share together was a trip to India in search of enlightenment.  Did you find it?

I would say, no.  We weren’t so much looking for enlightenment, we were just looking to see what we could find after having been inspired by various books that we read.  The books, Be Here Now, and Autobiography of a Yogi, and Ramakrishna and His Disciples, just to list the three.  They’re filled with miracle stories and we wanted to see how much of that was real, and we didn’t really see any of that. It’s not like it was a disappointment but it was going to see for ourselves something.  We had a very good adventure, travelled around, went to many temples, it was a successful trip in the sense that nothing really bad happened, although I was sick the entire time.

Oh no.

Steve was sick at time I arrived.  Well I don’t know, neither of us were really complaining much, we were young.

Yesteryear: Daniel Kottke (left) with Steve Jobs

 

So following your time in India, and you get back to The States, and it’s really the start of when Apple is born and the first computer is created, was India in any way formative to the beginning of that journey?

Not so much, I think.  It didn’t have much to do with the start of Apple, but I think both the trip to India and our experience with psychedelics contributed a lot to Steve’s creativity later on.  Well, the trip to India, I wouldn’t say contributes to creativity but it contributes to making you a self confident person in the world, having been to the other side of the world and see how life is like.  I think it gives a good foundation for doing big things in the world.

What do you think was the driving force then in Steve creating Apple?  What were his objectives early on?

Well, he had a big psychological complex about having been adopted and I think, although I never saw that in my friendship with him, I think it’s pretty clear that inside he felt he had something important to prove to the world and it wasn’t clear that Apple computer was going to do that but at least it was something he could work at, and the Apple computer was really completely the idea of Steve Wozniak but it was Steve Jobs who said, “Oh, let’s sell that and start a company,” and Woz was not about to start a company, he already had a job and he liked his job.

Okay, so Steve was really on that marketing side of taking that product and introducing it to the world, I guess?

Yes, and his ambition to be successful is what drove him for so many years.

Did he ever discuss with you being adopted or his thoughts on that?

Not a whole lot but in 1974 is when he got the job at Atari and he was earning money, and then the summer of 1974 is when we went to India but right about the same time, perhaps after, he spent a lot of money on primal therapy, which is a type of therapy where you are trying to get in touch with your inner traumas and you scream them out to the world, and I thought that was very strange.  I asked him why he was spending so much money to do this because it was thousands of dollars and that’s when he told me about his being adopted and how it was an issue for him, and he wanted to get at the root of it.

Steve Jobs' biological father, Abdulfattah John Jandali

 

Do you think the therapy helped in some way?

That’s a good question.  He didn’t really ever say, to me at least, when way or another.  I don’t know whether it helped.  He was a seriously ambitious person so I don’t even know what to say, whether it helped or not.

What was the dynamic between you and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak?  Were you all close friends?

I was not friends with Steve Wozniak, particularly.  Steve Jobs and I were close friends in the topic areas of Eastern spiritual literature.  I didn’t know anything about the technology and so when I came out to California to work for Steve, I was just an unskilled entry level worker for $3, an hour and that was fine with me, I like to learn.  I was interested in the computers, I just didn’t have any background.

So what was your experience like, working at Apple?

Well, I was at Apple for eight years, there were many stages.  That whole first year I worked in production and then I graduated to the engineering lab and I was very happy with that because then I was learning a lot more, and I got to build all the prototypes of the Apple III, I was very happy with that, but then it was time to graduate to becoming an engineer and Apple would not do that and Steve wouldn’t help me, and then it was time for Apple to go public and I didn’t have a stock option and Steve wouldn’t talk to me, and so that was very frustrating, and he basically never really talked to me again for many, many years.

Okay, so was that the end of your friendship then, at that point?

Yeah, pretty much I would say.  I think it pretty much ended, Steve got a girlfriend named Barbara in about 1979 and he started, even though Steve and I were sharing a house in Cupertino, I would not see him for weeks at a time because he was just living with Barbara.  I am trying to track Barbara down.  I haven’t talked to her in 15 years, and I haven’t succeeded yet.

So, from that point on and moving forward, were ever able to get back some of your friendship with Steve or did you have the opportunity to talk again?

We chatted very briefly a couple of times just in the last year, but never had the reunion that I was hoping we would have.  I was hoping we would at least have a reunion and a drink of beer and talk about old times, and actually he had called me up once in about 2009 and we had a very nice chat, and he said something like, “We’ll have to get together again one of these days,” so I thought that would happen but the cancer got away.

And so you never really got that opportunity to say goodbye?

No, and I feel bad because he never replied to any of the emails I sent him this past year, so, well, there’s all kinds of relationships in life, some work out better than others.  Steve and I had many, many good experiences early in life and I was sad that he left us without having to reconnect and remember the old times.

Do you know why, when you were working at Apple and it got to the point where you wanted to step up and work as an engineer, Steve didn’t want to support you in that move?

No, I’ve no idea really.  Steve had come to me once in about 1978 and wanted to hire me into marketing to work for him, and he said I would make more money and not have to work as hard but he wasn’t being really persuasive, and I had to turn him down because I didn’t understand how computers worked yet, and I said, “Steve, I’m not going to learn in marketing,” and I would have been happy to work for him.  I wonder if he felt personally rejected because of that, I don’t know.

So maybe the fact that you didn’t go in that direction for him, it sort of then spurned that decision not to support you as an engineer?

It’s possible.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t really make sense but a friend of mine, the other day, was saying his theory was that it was about a girl.  About jealousy over a girl, which since he suggested it I thought was a very good theory but it’s not true.

It’s not true?

We never had a rivalry over a girl.

Okay.

It does explain many things in life.

So how does all of that then affect your view of Steve as a leader?  What did you think of his leadership?

Well, there’s many different parts that go into leadership.  He was very difficult on his employees very often.   He could be very abrasive, very hurtful and most people would say that’s not good leadership.  On the other hand, when it comes to inspiring people and giving people a vision he was very good at that, and he was very good at getting to the bottom line, so to speak.  When he came back to Apple, “Apple was bleeding money and had only 90 days to live,” is one quote that I heard, and he just slashed and burned and cut it down to the core, and then rebuilt it with new products.  It was quite a miracle.

One of the things Apple has produced besides its technology, is a fanaticism amongst it’s consumers that’s taken on this cult-like following and it seems that Apple fans are in league of their own in that sense.  What’s your take on this phenomenon?  What do you think drives an Apple fan?

Well, to go back to the Apple II, there were many fans of the Apple II because it was a kind of a playful computer and that inspired a lot of loyalty.  There were a lot of loyal fans of the Altair and the IMSAI, that was the previous generation and that was not fun to use at all but people who bought the Model T from Henry Ford, they all, I’m sure, were loyal users, but sometime during the years of the Apple II, Steve learned to be a showman and by the time the Macintosh came out, he was giving a fair amount of his personality into marketing the device and that was a kind of new direction for technology.  You don’t see other big technology companies doing that, giving it a personal touch and I think he saw that that worked well.  It took years for the Macintosh to really become successful but Steve put a fair amount of his personal touch into marketing it and once it did become successful, well he used that.  So then he left Apple and was selling the next, and that was very much using his personal charisma as a marketing tool.  So then when he came back to Apple he jumped into that fulltime.

Also in his biography, Steve talks about the similarities between engineers and artists, technology and design and how this fusion of industry is what gives meaning and a humanity to Apple products.  Do you agree with that?  Do you think that the company was able to achieve this?

Yeah, very much.  The Apple II was not so much about industrial design, neither was the Apple III, but by the time the Macintosh came along Steve was quite obsessive about the look and feel of the case and the software.  That was a very artistic sensibility that he brought to the Macintosh project and it showed, and I think, back to the previous question, that’s what underlies so much of the fanatical loyalty of customers for the Macintosh because it was a personal computer, it was playful and when we had focus groups on the design of the Mac, one of the concepts they came up with, “This is a computer that you would take to bed with you,” in the sense that you would take it and you would put it on the bed with you the way you would bring a book to bed. And that was quite a radical idea, having a lot more to do with art than technology, you would say.

Well, still on the topic of fans, what were your personal experiences with fans?  Do you have any stories about meeting with fans and the sorts of encounters that you’ve had?

Let’s see.  Well, not really.  I left Apple in 1984, I think Macworld as being the main venue for the fans.  I’m not sure what year that started but it wasn’t for several years.  That’s a good question, I’ve got to look it up.  And anyway, I would go to Macworld every year just to enjoy the enthusiasm and reconnect with many of my friends.

So there was a sense of community then?

A huge sense of community, and best parties of the year were during the week of Macworld [Expo] because people would come from all over the country, people from the technology community and it was quite remarkable to have that much excitement around a product, and then, of course, it was a steady stream of books that came out about the Macintosh.  I have an entire bookshelf just filled with books about either Steve Jobs or Apple or the Macintosh, and that helped fuel all the senses, camaraderie and community. It’s sad that Macworld has finally ended.

Especially when it brings that fan culture together and celebrates it in that way…

Yeah.  Well actually, that has now shifted to the iPhone developer community. The iPhone developer conference sells out every year.  It’s a huge rush for people to get tickets because they all want to go.  I’m not a developer so I haven’t been but I wish I could go.

What do you think, following Steve’s passing and, I guess now, this next big release from Apple is the focus on IOS and the iPad, and the iPhone.  What do you think the future of Apple looks like from where you stand?

I think Apple has a very bountiful future in the coming years just following up.  So the latest iPhone 4 focused quite a lot on a voice interface.  If Steve was still alive you can confidently say that no way would he want to be licensing this technology from nuance, he would find a way to develop it in-house.  It doesn’t really seem like he pulled that off, so the Siri interface for the iPhone, the voice interface, works remarkably well and that’s clearly got a long way to go.  I think in the coming years we’ll all be talking to our iPhones and they will be talking back to us as well as our computers.  And then on the video front, Steve didn’t quite succeed in doing for the Apple TV what he did for the iPod, that is to say, to get all the content labels aligned.  That was the amazing thing he did to make to iPod a success, is that he got all the record labels, all the major record labels signed up to provide some content.  That was a remarkable feat and I read, maybe in the biography, I read that he made a very determined effort to do that with video, with the video labels for them,  the movie studios and didn’t really succeed because they’re just notoriously holding on to their content.  But anyway, they’ve drastically lowered the price on Apple TV and I think, in the next coming years, we’ll see a very successful paradigm for people using an iPad as a television guide, and selecting something and the moment you click on it, there it will be on your Apple TV, on the big screen.  So it’s got a long ways to go and that’s something that the public clearly wants.  No one yet has been able to pull that off.  I was doing an online video hosting company startup in 2007 and 2008.  It didn’t get funded and failed so I was really immersed in that whole field and I can tell you there is a lot of room for a big successful player like Apple.

And just as an aside, do you use Apple products yourself?

Sure.  I have multiple Macs, I have multiple iPhones, I have multiple iPods.  I’m a huge fan of the products.

Do you think you would ever work with Apple again in the future?  Do you think there’s an opportunity for that to happen?

I really have no idea.  I would be happy to.  Steve and I had never really patched up our friendship.  I wasn’t thinking I had any future working at Apple again.  I’m so old now, in terms of the waves of technology, it would be in some other capacity but I do have a law degree and I’m good with interfacing with the public.  I don’t know.  I do think, I would expect Steve Wozniak will find himself back at Apple.

You think so?

Just as a mild guess, because I know he loves Apple and he would be happy to serve in some capacity.  He’s the CEO of another company right now, so that may drag on for another year or two but as soon as he gets a slot open in his schedule, well anyway, I’m going to suggest it to Tim Cook.

I’m sure Apple fans would love to see something like that though.

Yes, that’s right.

If somebody was asking you about Steve and you had the opportunity to maybe tell them something, or anything really that a lot of people don’t know about him and his life or his legacy, what would you want them to know?

I don’t know.  My whole story about not getting a stock option, that was all very painful and traumatic for me, and it took me years to get over it.  I’m kind of glad that story got told at least.  I could certainly imagine a different reality where Walter Isaacson didn’t write his book and the story didn’t really get told, but aside from that, in the positive direction I think Steve has left an amazing legacy for innovation and creative, artistic technology products.  I think he’ll set a very positive example for many people in industry for generations to come.  He really became quite a giant.

Well thank you so much Daniel for your time.  It’s been wonderful to get your insights and your perspective on the whole journey really, and I know our readers will really appreciate being able to get a glimpse of the other side of Apple, so thank you very much.

Yeah.  I think the one thing that is worth pointing people to, is Stanford Commencement Address was quite remarkable.

Yes it was.

Clearly it wouldn’t have come out that way if he didn’t have a life threatening illness.  You could see the effect.  You could say, I’ve said this quite often, is, life threatening illness has a way of having a very good psychological effect on people and that was certainly the case with Steve.  We’re all sorry the cancer took him but in fact, Steve had done so many technological miracles, I think me and many people half expected him to pull through, although the photos in August looked very grim.  I thought there was a very real chance that he would be with us for some years to come.  I’m sorry that wasn’t the case.

One last comment I’ll make?

Please yes, go ahead.

I offer it because I was Steve’s friend during many of his early years.  I was witness to him not treating his girlfriends very well.

He was a bad boyfriend?

Well, he was not a good boyfriend to Chris-Ann, the father of his daughter. Anyway, given his patterns I would not have predicted a long happy marriage for him, and I’m so glad that he had that experience and that he had children, and was able to have happy family life with them and so I tell people that Laurene is a hero for sticking with Steve.  I know how difficult it was at times and she must have been tempted to divorce him and become a very wealthy woman and not have to put up with all his crap, but she did it and so I wrote her a card, and I said, “Laurene, you are a hero.”  Anyway, I think that’s worth plating out.

Absolutely.

Here in Silicon Valley, someone actually wrote a book called, The Silicon Valley Syndrome, and it was about the failed marriages of successful, high-tech entrepreneurs. If you look at all the CEOs of these startup companies, it’s very, very common that they have failed marriages because they’re married to their work and Steve was the same way, and in fact his quote was, “He wanted to do the Isaacson book so that his children would know what his life involved, because obviously he didn’t feel that he was there for his children much, and that’s a little poignant, but really he was there, in a sense.  He was obviously thinking about them and very devoted to his family and that’s a good message.

5 Comments

5 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. James says:

    Flash Player is required – well, there goes listening to it on an Apple device then! Pretty bloody stupid coming from an Apple site, no?!

  2. Nc says:

    Yeah same. Thank goodness for the retina display to read it clearly :) . Would have been nice to hear it though.

  3. Dave Bullard says:

    Fair call, guys. We need to fix that. Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    We’re getting this fixed ASAP. Should be corrected this evening, apologies for the inconvenience.

  5. NL says:

    Fixed! You can play it on your iDevice now. Cheers.

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