The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy
Business & Economy

The Wisdom of Woz: Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak explains why he and Steve Jobs were a great team

I just relayed questions from the audience. Woz dispensed the wisdom.
I just relayed questions from the audience. Woz dispensed the wisdom.

I got to do a very cool thing last week: introduce — and then lead a question-and-answer session with — Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It was part of the Distinguished Speakers Series, and the event took place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

KPCC often provides on-air folks to participate in the series. This was my first opportunity, and for a person who has never really owned anything other than Apple computers since the the late 1980s, it was both a privilege and a thrill to be on the same stage as Woz.

His speech was a charming, funny, and accessible ramble through his years before and after Apple — including a stint on "Dancing with the Stars" and a new memoir, "iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It."

Given that Steve Jobs passed away last year, however, Wozniak's memories of his co-founder were some of the most moving of the evening.

I left with two key takeaways from the Wisdom of Woz (and it's a generous wisdom — the man hung around for 45 minutes after the event was officially over to sign iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks).

First, money is and always should be a secondary concern to the creative member of an entrepreneurial team. Woz didn't innovate in the world of computers because he wanted to get rich. As he reminded the audience on numerous occasions, once he landed a job at Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s, he would have been happy to spend the rest of his career as an H-P engineer. 

He built computers — including the first, highly influential Apple I — because he had to. He would have done it for free.

It's a cliché to say that if you do what you love, the money will follow. Wozniak altered that somewhat. He did what he loved and had no real choice about doing. That was the secret. It drove him to solve problems in ways that were unique.

Second, you need to find a guy like Jobs. The two met in the early '70s and spent heady times in the post-1960s culture of the Bay Area, with Jobs occasionally heading north to Oregon to attend Reed College. It was all about Bob Dylan bootlegs, computer clubs, and Woz's technical imagination, which churned out a steady stream of gadgets that Jobs reliably managed to turn into money.

We often think of Jobs as being a visionary innovator, a creative force. But as I've argued before, he was less Thomas Edison than Walt Disney. 

And he knew, almost unfailingly, how to turn a neat, unique idea into money, money, money.

And in business, that's the bottom line — quite literally. Woz was clearly impressed by this. Why was Jobs — often smelly and unkempt, probably more than a tad crazy — worth listening to when it came to bringing a Woz product to market?

Because he could smell money. But more importantly, he could smell money that people didn't even know they wanted to spend yet. 

He could smell money in the future. A nearly singular talent.

That's not a bad thing. It just made the two Steves a kind of perfect yin-yang business team.

Besides, it's not as if money was all they thought about. But Jobs' true vision was in understanding that ideas are great, execution is better, and that money makes it all come together.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter. And ask Matt questions at Quora.