Steve Jobs: Revelations from a tech giant

Steve Jobs was already gravely ill with cancer when he asked author Walter Isaacson to write his biography. Jobs told Isaacson to write a honest book -- about his failings and his strengths.

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

Isaacson: He said, "From then on, I realized that I was not just abandoned. I was chosen. I was special." And I think that's the key to understanding Steve Jobs.

Another factor was geography. Jobs grew up in Northern California, not far from Palo Alto. He was a gifted child, who tested off the charts, in a neighborhood populated by engineers.

Isaacson: Yeah, he was raised in the place that was just learning how to turn silicon into gold. It had not yet been named Silicon Valley, but you had the defense industry, you had Hewlett-Packard. But you also had the counter-culture, the Bay Area. That entire brew came together in Steve Jobs. He was sort of a hippie-ish rebel kid, loved listening to Dylan music, dropped acid, but also he loved electronics.

Jobs would eventually cross paths with a computer wizard at Berkeley five years his senior named Steve Wozniak. They became fast friends, sharing a love of high tech pranks and a disdain for authority. One of the things they did was to copy and improve an illicit device called a "blue box," which reproduced the tones that the phone company used and allowed users to make free long distance phone calls.

Isaacson: Wozniak loves the "blue box," he's doing it as a prank. Steve says, "We can sell them. We can market them." And they sold about 100 of 'em, and Jobs said to me, "That's the beginning of Apple. When we started doing that 'blue box,' I knew that with Wozniak's brilliant designs and my marketing skills, we could sell anything."

That was still a few years off. Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Oregon at a time when Timothy Leary was telling students across the country to turn on, tune in and drop out. Jobs did after one semester.

[Steve Jobs, audio: The time we grew up in was a magical time. And it was also a very, you know, spiritual time in my life. Definitely taking LSD was one of the most important things in my life and not the most important. But right up there.]

He eventually drifted back to his parents' house and became one of the first 50 employees to work for the video game maker Atari. But he was not a big hit with his co-workers.

Kroft: He never wore shoes. Had very long hair. Never bathed. In fact, when he went to work for Atari they put him on the night shift because people said he smelled so bad that they didn't want to work with him.

Isaacson: You know, he believed that his vegan diet, and-- the way he lived made it so he didn't have to use deodorant or shower that often. It was an incorrect theory as people kept pointing out to him at Atari. You know, he was a pretty abrasive and in some ways, you know, cantankerous character. But these people at Atari, they kind of get him. And they say, "Well, we don't want you to leave, but how about working the night shift."

Jobs took a leave from Atari and spent seven months wandering across India looking for spiritual enlightenment. And it turned out not to be a waste of time.

Isaacson: And when he comes back he says, "The main thing I've learned is intuition, that the people in India are not just pure rational thinkers, that the great spiritual ones also have an intuition. Likewise, the simplicities of Zen Buddhism, really informed his design sense. That notion that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

When he returned from his trek, Jobs and Wozniak started building and peddling a primitive computer for hobbyists. With a $1,300 investment, they founded Apple computer in his parents' garage.