KWR Celebrity: Steve Wozniak
In the spirit of our last post on Steve Jobs, it is only fair we take a look at Steve Wozniak, “Woz”, the often forgotten co-founder of Apple. Wozniak was portrayed by Seth Rogan in the movie Steve Jobs. Woz is a KWR.
Steve Wozniak – KWR (Knowledgeable Wisdom & Responsibility)
The core competence of a KWR is “perfecting precision.” The KWR knows how to take knowledge, wisdom and apply them to make things better–way bettter. They love academics and value education. And you will find KWRs passionate about being subject matter experts in anything that interests them. They are often referred to as “nerds” which is only one type of KWR expression. For example, for every Sheldon Cooper (KWR/DLF) on the show The Big Bang Theory, you have Peyton Manning who is a KWR athlete. Woz just happens to be more Big Bang than NFL (he brought Comic Con to Silicon Valley), but the intrinsic motivation and social DNA are the same.
One of the best articles I’ve read, which is an interview with Woz, is on the site for Founders at Work which is a book written by Jessica Livingston. I will be excerpting quotes from his interview which you can read for yourself.
Steve Wozniak knew he could learn how to make circuit boards better. That’s where this KWR story starts.
Even back in high school I knew I could design computers with half as many chips as the companies were selling them with. I taught myself, but I had taught myself in a way that forced me to learn all sorts of trickiness.
My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don’t just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.
The KWR is also very precise in their communication. They don’t like to use second hand information or anecdotes. They learn and validate knowledge to a high level of precision. The way that Wozniak’s recounts how he designed circuit boards shows this. It’s almost dizzying the level of technical detail. Here is a taste:
The dynamic RAMs were going to be 1/4 the price. The dynamic RAMs meant that instead of 32 chips to have enough memory for a computer to have a language, you only needed 8 chips of RAMs. But dynamic RAM needs all this circuitry to get into every single address in the RAM every 2000th of a second, read what was there and write it back, or it forgets it. Dynamic RAM (this is what we have in our computers today) will forget every single bit in a 2000th of a second unless something reads it and writes it back the way it was to hold its state. It’s like little electrons stored on a plate and they’ll leak off in a 2000th of a second.
Apple became known for its simple design. While Steve Jobs championed a vision of design, it was Steve Wozniak that applied the KWR gift to perfection and precision.
In my minimalist approach, I made the wires the shortest, straightest, thinnest wires possible, instead of having these big old looped up hairy messes of wire wrap type stuff. So I did all that and I was also the technician. I would test things out and look for the voltages first and apply it carefully and look for signals and analyze what was wrong and fix the bugs and resolder and come up with new ideas and add some chips in. I was the technician and everything, for all of the Apple projects I ever did.
The KWR will demand excellence and be very disciplined and diligent about it when perfecting precision. When asked about what makes an excellent engineer, Woz’s reply is:
You have to be very diligent. You have to check every little detail. You have to be so careful that you haven’t left something out. You have to think harder and deeper than you normally would. It’s hard with today’s large, huge programs.
The KWR, when operating in full maturity and synchronization, also advocates for social responsibility. When asked to give advice to people thinking about starting their own company, this is a classic KWR response:
First of all, try to have the highest of ethics and to be open and truthful about things, not hiding. If you have to hide something for company reasons, at least explain what you’re doing. Don’t mislead people. Know in your heart that you are a good person with good goals because that will carry over to your own self-confidence and your belief in your engineering abilities. Always seek excellence: make your product better than the average person would.
The KWR is very unimposing. They don’t believe in ramrodding solutions or their leadership. It’s not that they are passive, but typically the KWR simply wants to focus on where they feel the most comfortable.
In business and politics, I wasn’t going to be a real strong participant. I wasn’t going to tell other people how to do things. I wasn’t going to run things ever in my life. I was a non-political person and I was a very non-forceful person. It dated back to a lot of things that happened during the Vietnam War. But I just couldn’t run a company. But then one person said I could be an engineer. That was all I needed to know, that “Okay, I’ll start this company and I’ll just be an engineer.” To this day, I’m still on the org chart, on the bottom of the org chart—never once been anything but an engineer who works.
Now Woz was willing to stand up for what he believed for. In the case of Steve Jobs, there are many accounts of the one real argument they had about the number of slots in the first Apple computers. Jobs wanted less. Woz would not back down. Jobs had no choice. In the end, the right decision was made. The product was better for it.
Woz is why Apple was able to “think” in the “Think Different” brand slogan. Jobs brought the “different” but the KWR helps the organization truly think. Woz also championed Apple’s long history of supporting education. This is also why Woz “secretly” taught school for eight years. He believes in academically developing young minds which if a gift that many KWRs bring to the world.
It’s easy to see Apple only through the celebrity of Steve Jobs. But without the other Steve, Steve Wozniak, we wouldn’t have the Apple we know today. Here’s to celebrating the KWR!