Steve Jobs’ second coming success at Apple can be traced directly to his wilderness years

“If Steve Jobs’s life were staged as an opera, it would be a tragedy in three acts,” Brent Schlender writes for Fast Company. “And the titles would go something like this: Act I–The Founding of Apple Computer and the Invention of the PC Industry; Act II–The Wilderness Years; and Act III–A Triumphant Return and Tragic Demise.”

“That second act–The Wilderness Years–would be altogether different in tone and spirit [from Acts I and III]. In fact, the soul of this act would undermine its title, a convenient phrase journalists and biographers use to describe his 1985 to 1996 hiatus from Apple, as if the only meaningful times in Jobs’s life were those spent in Cupertino,” Schlender writes. “In fact, this middle period was the most pivotal of his life. And perhaps the happiest. He finally settled down, married, and had a family. He learned the value of patience and the ability to feign it when he lost it. Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time, NeXT and Pixar, turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return.”

Schlender writes, “Indeed, what at first glance seems like more wandering for the barefoot hippie who dropped out of Reed College to hitchhike around India, is in truth the equivalent of Steve Jobs attending business school.”

Much, much more in the extensive full article – recommended – here.

[Attribution: TUAW. Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Lynn Weiler” for the heads up.]


  1. Everything Steve did when he came back to Apple was thought and created at Next and Pixar. Everything. I just love his Next stories! Unfortunately, there’s not many books about that time of his life…

  2. “Act III–A Triumphant Return and Tragic Demise.” I fail to see the tragic in the return of Steve Job, before he died, apple briefly surpassed exxon to become the world’s most valuable company. Also, he live long enough to see his company beat all records, his enemies being ridiculized by their own predictions and having his family and friend with him.

    1. “Triumphant Return and Tragic Demise”

      They used the word “and” – you seem to ignore that. The return was triumphant, with Apple becoming very successful, but his actual death (that’s what “demise” means) was a tragedy, because he died fairly young.

    2. “Tragic Demise”

      Death is mostly a tragedy from the perspective of those left behind here in human loony land. I see death as a happy progression away from human loony land. Steve Jobs ACCOMPLISHED his goal of transforming both himself and the entire computer industry. He created a real and sane company that defies all the idiot biznizziz from which we all suffer today. He made the term ‘Capitalism’ into something with shining quality and admiration, inspirational, helpful and useful to everyone. To do that during our current era of shocking business decline and ethical fall is STUNNING!

      And never underestimate what Steve Jobs accomplished within himself. He disciplined his brilliant mind to become a remarkable man and spirit, a great benefit to the hopefully saner world after this human lunatic catastrophe.

      There is no tragedy in death for a person with perspective.

    1. True, someone, Andrew Lloyd Webber will probably turn this into a real 3-act opera, or at least a musical. Daisey will probably turn his one man hit-piece into a musical as well, a twist on those Red Army operas that were so popular under Mao.

  3. Indeed, what at first glance seems like more wandering for the barefoot hippie who dropped out of Reed College to hitchhike around India, is in truth the equivalent of Steve Jobs attending business school.

    I beg to differ. Considering the worthless CRAP MBA graduates coming out of most of today’s garbage biznizz schools, bizily devastating the concept of CAPITALISM, Steve Jobs had a HELL-OF-A-BETTER EDUCATION than anyone could get at today’s fake ‘business’ schools.

    You can’t beat experience.
    You can’t beat perspective.

    Meanwhile, you can take most MBA degrees and burn them, sparing the world the outrageous ignorance and self-destructive behavior they represent.

    Someday REAL Capitalism will revive and thrive. Until then, parasites and stupid BizTards rule… EXCEPT at Apple. Thank you Apple for staying sane.

    1. Another disagreeable quote from the source article:
      After getting bounced from Apple…

      Steve Jobs QUIT Apple after being effectively demoted and insulted by it’s board and lousy CEO (whom Jobs himself had foolishly hired). Steve jobs was never ‘bounced’ from anywhere. Sheeple gossip, unworthy of a professional journalist with an intimate knowledge of Steve Jobs.

      But it’s still a fascinating article, well worth reading.

      1. For all intents and purposes, he got bounced. Read his biography, he knew and everyone else knows what went down. Give the superior attitude a rest. Don’t be an insufferable twit for your entire life.

        1. I’ve read two Apple biographies and seen three related films and been reading Internet posted articles about Apple for nearly two decades. Jobs never got bounced.

          I will also note that you remain one of the most offensive, pushy and wrong people to post at MDN. I have no use for your opinion about anything, let alone what little you bother to learn about me. So I flick you off the lectern and hope for someone thoughtful, caring and loving to replace your hatefulness and self-destructiveness in the queue.

          So come on! Give me your best shot, ditto head! 😆

          (Yes, I’m feeding the troll. It’s kind of like taunting the tapeworms at the enteric zoo).

  4. There is no doubt that those “wilderness” years away from Apple running NeXT and Pixar shaped Jobs into becoming arguably the most admired and dominant CEO the business world has ever seen. His ouster from Apple in ’85 was really a long-term blessing in disguise. He needed those years away from Apple to learn all the ins and outs of running a business from the ground up. Not to defend Sculley in any way or form, but Jobs definitely seemed to be veering out of control at Apple after the introduction of the Macintosh. He just didn’t have the discipline.

    The experience he gained at NeXT and Pixar was critical in shaping his business acumen and technological vision for the future before he returned to Apple. Even NeXT often seemed like a mess that didn’t know what to do with its amazing NeXTStep OS that was years beyond what anyone else was doing. I remember wanting a NeXT machine or installing the OS on an Intel machine so bad because it looked so far beyond what both Apple and Microsoft were doing in the early-to-mid 90’s.

    Jobs’s experience running Pixar made him into the savvy negotiator he became when dealing with the media companies years later at Apple. You wonder if Jobs could have negotiated the deals with the record companies to get their music on iTunes if Jobs hadn’t gone through some very demanding years negotiating with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenburg and Michael Eisner at Disney. These guys make the music industry seem like child’s play in comparison.

    Jobs learned from his mistakes and he made plenty during his original stint at Apple and during the wilderness years, especially at NeXT. What one learns from past mistakes should get absorbed and ingrained to the bones. The real lesson is not to make the same mistakes twice and I don’t see any glaring examples of Jobs having done so after he returned to Apple. He was much more disciplined, much wiser, and much savvier than ever before.

    Personally, I really didn’t think he had those qualities in him when he returned although I was beyond elated when Apple bought out NeXT and made NeXTStep the foundation of OS X. If I had believed Jobs had changed that much during those wilderness years when he returned I’d be a filthy-rich multimillionaire by now. But I have no regrets and I’m extremely happy that Jobs lifted Apple (and AAPL) to where it is now. The story of Jobs is as much about how adversity shaped a genius during his formative years as the triumphs he achieved at Apple.

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