Steve Jobs on learning to run a company

From Robert X. Cringley’s “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview”:

You know, throughout the years in business I found something, which was I’d always ask why you do things. And the answers you invariably get are “Oh, that’s just the way it’s done.” Nobody knows why they do what they do. Nobody thinks about things very deeply in business. That’s what I found. I’ll give you an example. When we were building our Apple I’s in the garage we knew exactly what they cost.

When we got into a factory in the Apple II days, the accounting had this notion of a “standard cost”—where you’d kind of set a standard cost and at the end of a quarter you’d adjust it with a “variance.” And I kept asking, “Well, why do we do this?” And the answer was, “Well, that’s just the way it’s done.” And after about six months of digging into this, what I realized was, the reason you do it is because you don’t really have good enough controls to know how much it costs, so you guess. And then you fix your guess at the end of the quarter.

And the reason you don’t know how much it costs is because your information systems aren’t good enough. But nobody said it that way. And so later on when we designed this automated factory for Macintosh, we were able to get rid of a lot of these antiquated concepts and know exactly what something cost to the second.

So in business, a lot of things are—I call it “folklore.” They’re done because they were done yesterday and the day before. And so what that means is if you’re willing to sort of ask a lot of questions and think about things and work really hard, you can learn business pretty fast. It’s not the hardest thing in the world.

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