TAMPA, Fla.—Its clear very quickly that Steve Wozniak is the biggest dreamer in the room. Any room.
"The more computers resemble real people," the Apple co-founder said with uncharacteristic gravitas, "the more attractive they are to people that want to learn and spend time with them doing something that is a bit of a drag. We need to work on that."
Addressing more than 500 solution providers at the ConnectWise annual partner summit here Sept. 22, Wozniak punctuated his hour-long trip down computer memory lane with a recurring challenge to those in attendance: Keep pushing technology to solve real problems and help consumers. And, when you think youve finally delivered a solution, Wozniak said, step back, rethink it and see if it can be made simpler, faster, better.
"Every time you come up with a solution for someone, dont be in a rush to say Im finished," Wozniak said. "Take a look at it and say, How could I have made it better? You dont have to go forever. But try to do a better job than the other guy would have done. Thats where excellence comes from. [That] is what makes companies great."
In an interview after his keynote, Wozniak urged solution providers to value their passion for technology over their business ambition and to surround themselves with energetic multitaskers rather than high-priced tech specialists.
"The best things we ever did at Apple came from lack of resources ... and from being very skilled, very smart," he said. "We were able to figure out how to do something even though we hadnt done it before. And we generally did it better than other people in the world were doing it.
Wozniak continued: "So, dont act like youve got all the money in the world from the start. Hire people who are really good at building new things, who have experience at building new things out of nothing. Try to keep salaries a little on the low side and dont hire a ton of people right away. Try to find people that can do the most tasks possible, somebody who covers a lot of disciplines."
And above all, he said, "Always be sensitive to where the market is going and be flexible enough to change."
But make no mistake, he did not come to the Gulf Coast of Florida to dish out business advice for VARs, nor did the ConnectWise partners pack the Marriott Harborside ballroom to hear any such thing. They wanted exactly what Wozniak delivered—and hour of tech war stories chronicling the seminal moments in the PC revolution.
Wozniak not wild about all things Apple. Click here to read more.
Woz may be a little heavier, a little more gray, a little better groomed than the hirsute figure he cut with high school buddy Steve Jobs in 1977 to revolutionize the computer industry with their unlikely Apple II. But the jocular Wozniak clearly relishes his tech guru status and doesnt disappoint as he holds court with a steady mix of anecdotes and prognostications befitting a Silicon Valley legend.
Wozniaks stories, most of which are chronicled in his new book, "iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon," are delivered without the frenetic music and the stellar graphics that are the hallmarks of a Jobs presentation. Instead, Wozniak dishes from the stock hotel lectern under a single spotlight. He has a penchant for corny jokes, a leftover from his days founding the Bay Areas first Dial-a-Joke line. And his left wrist is obscured by the ultimate symbol of geek cred—a black Nixie tube watch the size of a Mason jar lid.
"Im just a guy who was always fascinated by computers," he said. "But I also learned early on that the brain power required to come up a method to solve a problem is worth a lot more than the raw power in any computer."