5by5 | The Critical Path #59: Gut-level Affection, An interview with Jean-Louis Gassée

I talk to Jean-Louis Gassée about the early years of personal computing. The conversation spans from 1968 to 1991 and covers his roles at HP, Exxon Office Systems and his years at Apple. The story takes us back to a time and place that seems so distant and yet so familiar.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #59: Gut-level Affection, An interview with Jean-Louis Gassée.

  • adrianoconnor

    Hmmm. That only sounds like one of the most exciting prospects for a podcast since the Nerdist show bagged Tom Hanks. Queuing it up for the drive home tonight!

  • Bruce_Mc

    This was a lot of fun to listen to. Gassee’s enthusiasm, both then and now, really comes through. He’s knowledgeable of course, and a good storyteller also – his imitation of an American car salesman was funny. I understand the focus on history, but I hope you get a chance to discuss current developments in technology with him as well as history.

  • BoydWaters

    What a fantastic person to interview!

    Jean-Louis Gassée, as an experienced tech executive, believes that an exec with a passion for the business, and a sufficient mix of experience and temperament, can spot a wave of innovation. It may not be possible to align the company with the direction of the wave, or even desirable, but at the least, the executive team should be aware of the innovation.

    And yet, disruption theory would maintain that a disruptive wave may not be possible to spot, no matter the circumstances or mix of great people.

    Clearly, any dichotomy suggested here may well be false. (But where does Apple’s “crossroads of Engineering and the Liberal Arts” bon mot fit in? Certainly it seems to be working for them. But how much of Apple’s success is just happenstance?)

    Oy. I am gaining an insight into why top execs study military history. And keep a flask of brandy in the desk drawer.

    • oases

      Happenstance? Happen-fucking-stance? No you’re right, it’s not like anything was ever deeply thought through at Apple.

      • BoydWaters

        I would very much like to believe that success naturally follows from a
        virtuous cycle of “Job to be done” + “Brilliant engineering” +
        “Masterful supply-chain management” + “Clear message” = “Market reward”.

        This is, after all, the engineer’s mantra: “I am smart. I work very hard. I can be successful”. Yet there are emergent properties of markets that far more resemble dynamical chaos than intentional design.

        Which is not to say that quants and theoreticians should run companies.

        I just suspect that hard work and good products are necessary, but not sufficient.

      • oases

        How many successes would seem like statistically significant for you?

      • BoydWaters

        Would it further antagonize you if I agreed about Apple’s deserving their success?

        I ran a sizeable Macintosh network (400 Macs) until my company wiped it out to replace it with Compaqs running Windows 95. Rather than deal with “DLL Hell”, I quit that job and signed up for NeXT’s Developer program. So I feel vindicated on the merits of the technology.

        If disruption leads to failure despite the merits, then failure is possible no matter how good something is. Which implies (to me) that some measure of success is also independent of the merits.

        Perhaps my logic is faulty here. Certainly I don’t seem to be communicating very well.

      • oases

        There’s some happenstance in everything.

  • rj

    Thanks Horace, great interview. As a former BeBox owner, I’m looking forward to the sequel.

  • Bil_Harrison

    This was a great interview for lots of reasons: shame it stopped at Be. And Jean-Louis should be more explicit as to what he felt was wrong with Apple when he left/was fired; he doesn’t need to slander Scully (nor worry about it) to do so, either.

  • Panos

    I like when i see history repeating itself..
    When there is trouble, goodbye success – good morning politics..
    Good luck Scott Forstall…