Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal:
‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it’ was one of Steve Jobs’ favourite sayings. Jobs was granted access to Xerox PARC which was established in the 1970s as an R&D digital spawning ground in Silicon Valley for Xerox. One of its products was the Xerox Alto which was a new computer interface that went beyond the BASIC systems like MS-DOS (ie. black screen + code commands), and in the process created a desktop that was called the Graphical User Interface (GUI) ie. everything on the screen was visually represented by icons. Meanwhile at Apple, Jef Raskin brought Bill Atkinson on board in the Macintosh division to develop a cheaper version of LISA but of course, Jobs wanted to get on the front of the wave, and “make a dent in the universe”. Jobs began to exert more influence on the Macintosh project which was Jef Raskin’s brainchild. Jobs hated Raskin because he was a professor/abstract thinker, and Raskin was obviously in control of the Macintosh project which Jobs saw as his own way forward.
In 1981, Jobs gave 100,000 Apples shares at $10 per share to Xerox in exchange for access to their Xerox PARC. When Steve Jobs saw the demo of GUI he was amazed that Xerox had not commercialized these innovations: 1) the networking, 2) object oriented programming, 3) the mouse and GUI. With this one visit, Steve Jobs had found the way to connect users to the future with GUI, and a way to leapfrog over Raskin’s plans for Macintosh. Steve Jobs was proud of his stealing the great ideas from Xerox. What transpired was less a heist by Apple but a fumble by Xerox. Xerox was too focused on photocopies, and selling more machines. Ideas are important but execution and positioning is also crucial. Microsoft would subsequently ‘steal’ the GUI concept from Apple, but in reality, Bill Gates had also visited Xerox PARC.
This is an analysis based on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and other sources of research. Enjoy.