Like most employees, Tony Fadell used to rejoice in silence when his boss went on vacation.
Then Fadell joined Apple in 2001 and realized that Steve Jobs’ downtime was different from most bosses’ vacations. In a recent podcast episode of “The Tim Ferriss Show,” Fadell — known as the inventor of the iPod and co-creator of the iPhone — said that when Jobs leaves office, Apple employees will get two or three days of relative silence. Then, often without warning, they would start getting calls from Jobs with new ideas.
“Steve would be on vacation and he would be thinking … about the next product, the next direction for Apple, new technologies,” said Fadell, a former senior vice president of Apple’s iPod division who worked with Jobs for nearly 10 years. “He used this vacation as a time to broaden his thinking and get out of the daily life of Apple.”
Fadell says that when Jobs wasn’t on time, he read new books and sought out conversations about emerging technologies to help him find inspiration in unexpected places. Even at work, Jobs used similar methods to stimulate creativity: author Walter Isaacson wrote in his “Steve Jobs” biography that “taking a long walk was [Jobs’] favorite way to have a serious conversation.”
In fact, writes Isaacson, Jobs asked him to write the biography while on a walk.
Jobs’ vacation habits were sometimes hard on those around him: Fadell said Apple employees would hear from Jobs up to six times a day. “He was starting to think ‘Oh, let’s buy a music company’ or ‘Should we go and do this kind of product?’ “What technology would it take to achieve this?” Fadell said. “You would be like Google for him.”
Typically, Fadell said, you need to type searches quickly and email them to Jobs. Often Jobs would call back within 15 minutes with another idea, Fadell added.
In some ways, Fadell said, the attention was flattering — an opportunity to ponder Apple’s next product with Jobs himself. But the pressure can also feel overwhelming, Fadell noted, especially since Apple employees were already often working on high-pressure projects.
After leaving Apple, Fadell founded Google’s Nest Labs and said he found himself adopting some of Jobs’ vacation habits. Most notably, he said, spending a few hours away from his desk a day improved both his productivity at work and his personal well-being.
“There is a way to do it – to be very successful, to do amazing things, but also to give yourself the right amount per day, as well as per year, of time off and time to reflect,” he said. , noting that he’s personally benefited from working out, eating healthy, and cutting out alcohol. “During this time, I was able to come up with great ideas and solve problems while calming my brain.”
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