There used to be a weekly meeting with Steve Jobs to go over user interfaces and workflows for macOS. He would get together with the higher ups as well as members of the Human Interface team. Sometimes first level managers would be there or individual engineers might be there to run a demo or answer questions. They were held in a room called Diplomacy on the Infinite Loop campus and typically ran for many hours.
After this meeting, there would be a “debriefing” where one or more of the attendees of that meeting would report to the underlings. Sometimes that included people like me.
That’s the backstory to what’s actually a very short anecdote. What was fun about these debriefings is that they were like a game of telephone.
- Steve might say something in the weekly meeting
- Someone would jot down what they think he said
- The notes might get passed to someone else who would go to the debriefing
- Someone in the debriefing would relay their version of what was written down
The debriefing was a meeting often consisting of puzzled looks.
One time an icon change was being proposed. The note we got in the debriefing was that Steve said it was “horsey”, which prompted endless discussion:
- What does horsey mean?
- Is horsey good or bad?
- How do we make something less or more horsey?
- In the horsey-ness something minor that needs tweaking or so major that it needs to be redone?
- Did anyone just ask Steve what the hell he meant?
I’ve read in other accounts of those days at Apple that people would sometimes present the same content the next week at the meeting in Diplomacy and Steve would magically “change his mind” but I often wondered whether no one bothered to flesh out his original opinion. So what appeared to be a change of mind was just a message that was garbled in the first place.
There was definitely an element of control as well. Some of the higher ups who had closer access to Steve wanted to exercise more control than perhaps they had. For example, the horsey comment could be tweaked to fit a change someone below Steve felt needed to be made. Since not everyone had speed dial access to Steve, it was easy to take advantage of any ambiguity.
I don’t have proof of that but I can tell you it’s true. 🙂