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Long before Apple adopted their “Think Different” slogan in 1997, Steve Wozniak was using his own innovative way of thinking to turn the computer industry upside down. With the Apple I and II, two computers that he had designed and built by hand, the Woz helped Apple quickly move to the forefront of technology and establish itself as a legend in Silicon Valley. These two computers also helped start a revolution in personal computing, making the devices available to regular individuals, families, and students. But what made the Woz so innovative and what separated him from the pack? In this article, the Woz himself shares how he created “A+ products” at Apple and common mistakes to avoid when seeking to innovate.
In a 2010 interview with Youtuber Patrick Bet-David, the Woz gave some insights into the early days of Apple and why he developed the first line of products. As it turns out, Wozniak created the Apple I & II and helped design the Macintosh because he wanted to use them himself and they didn’t exist on the market. “I did it not for a company, I did it because I wanted it myself,” stated Wozniak. “You can’t motivate people with a high enough salary to do what you will do when it is for your own self. Or to show off, even!”
Besides being incredibly passionate about technology, the Woz contributes his success at Apple to two counterintuitive factors: a lack of experience and a lack of cash. “Everything I did at Apple that was an A+ job and that took us places, I had two things in my favor,” said Woz. “In the beginning, I had a tight budget, and I’d never done such things before.” According to the Woz, having fewer funds forced him to innovate in ways that he wouldn’t have otherwise done. “I had no money” early on, Wozniak said in the 2010 video. “That meant I had to figure out ways to do things very inexpensively. I had to get a lot out for the least in,” Wozniak said. “And I was very good at that.”
Wozniak also contributed his innovative designs to his lack of experience in building computers. “Every single Apple project — computers, hard disks, everything — I had never designed those things ever in my life,” Wozniak said. “I had had no training in them, but I was so good at taking the little parts — like pieces of wood to build a building — that I could architect something that was perfect. And really better than the people that were used to doing it would do.”
“[A] person who knows how to take the little elements and build on them, and write the book of how you actually put them into play, a person who comes up with the ability to write the book, I think is better than someone who knows how to do it from past experience,” said the Woz.
At a separate conference hosted by Digital Insurance in Austin, Wozniak spoke about some common mistakes to avoid when trying to innovate in technology. His greatest piece of advice was to focus on the end consumer. “It’s like human concerns almost never come out,” said Woz. “In my time at Apple, we always made computers that were easy to use. That meant, make them usable by humans intuitively without making them have to learn and memorize things. That meant the human was more important than the technology.”
“Companies do spreadsheets and say this is not going anywhere,” he said. “That’s what happened to us. I worked for HP and I wanted them so badly to build this personal computer and I got turned down five times. It wasn’t obvious that it was going to be as huge as it became. [The thinking was] little computers can’t do the jobs that people need computers for. But the low cost and some applications came out that made the market.”
Woz also said that the key to making an innovative product is by creating something that you would want to use. “The best indicator that a product will do well is, you want the product.” You’ve wanted it maybe your whole life and thought about it,” Wozniak said. “So it’s not just knowing what other people will think, it’s wanting it yourself. Look at Elon Musk. Why would you build an electric car large like the Tesla? He had a large family.”
According to the Woz, one’s limitations can actually help them become more innovative and creative. Both a lack of experience and money forced the Woz to think differently and develop computers that no one had ever conceived of before. The Woz serves as an inspiration for children from all backgrounds, proving that a lack of resources or experience doesn’t have to hold them back. Instead, possessing genuine curiosity and creativity are the key to becoming an innovator of tomorrow.
At Woz U, our mission is not only to equip students with the skills they need to succeed in a career in tech, but also inspire them and plant a seed of curiosity at the earliest stages of development. Starting at Kindergarten, we provide teachers with the tools they need to spark creativity in students and expose them to STEAM subjects early on. And, through the use of our K-to-Career pipeline, Woz U continues to nurture creativity and helps students keep their skills relevant for life.