We just celebrated the 20th Anniversary Apple’s Newton launch on August 3rd, and I’ve been reflecting since on what makes an incredible, magical team of people. After all, isn’t that what every startup strives for?
I had a pretty good idea at the time but in retrospect, being the program manager on the Newton, with certainty, was a once in a lifetime experience. The passion, commitment and innovation that came out of this group was in a word, amazing.
The Newton, as most know, was ultimately a market failure but an important precursor to Palm, iPhone and iPad.
Maybe because we drank too much Kool-Aid, or because the leadership was inspiring, or that the technology was so magical, we were deeply committed to each other’s success and the success in meeting our goals. It was a ‘do or die’, ‘never say never’ environment that made the impossible possible.
When I looked at the photo montage and launch video at the event, I couldn’t help but think, my god, we were all just kids! Perhaps because we were young and yet to be jaded, we were unencumbered by the ‘reality’ of what was being asked of us. Never did someone utter, ‘that won’t work, we’ve tried that before’.
Getting into Newton wasn’t easy, exclusivity created a heightened sense of performance. There was a barrier of entry, a skunkworks, secret project, the darling of the CEO, and if you got to work on it, you had to bring your ‘A’ game, that was the tradeoff expected.
While some of the people in the team were fresh out of college, some were already industry legends like Steve Capps and Larry Tesler. Everyone was immensely creative, talented and innovative. And driven. That culture bred more of the same, somehow the talent pool was never diluted, the high water mark stayed high.
Part of creating that inspired team was giving people impossibly large tasks, a great, great deal of freedom to execute and a believe that they could do what they were asked. Though I left the group as a Director and had numerous VP titles since, I’ve always said I was most empowered at Apple at the time, in a way I never would be again until running my own company.
There are a ton of success stories that came out of Newton, people who built and sold wildly successful companies, created iconic new products, became CEOs, some who sit in the world of venture, or are advisors or board members helping other rock stars find their way.