Why Steve Jobs called Apple staff on vacation

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Like most employees, Tony Fadell used to rejoice in silence when his boss went on vacation.

Later, Fadell joined Apple in 2001 and realized that Steve Jobs’ free time was different from most bosses’ vacations. On a recent podcast episode of “The Tim Ferriss Show,” Fadell — best known as the inventor of the iPod and one of the creators of the iPhone — said that when Jobs left the office, Apple employees would get two or three days of relative silence. Then, often without warning, they started getting calls from Jobs with new ideas.

“Steve is going on vacation and he’s going to be contemplating … the next product, the next direction for Apple, new technology,” said Fadell, a former senior vice president of Apple’s iPod division who worked with Jobs for nearly 10 years. “He used the vacation as a time to broaden his mind and get out of the everyday Apple.”

Fadell said that when Jobs wasn’t working, he would read new books and seek out conversations about upcoming technology to help him find inspiration in unexpected places. Even at work, Jobs used similar methods to spark creativity: Author Walter Isaacson wrote in his biography “Steve Jobs” that “walking distance is [Jobs’] the preferred way to have a serious conversation.”

In fact, writes Isaacson, Jobs asked him to write a biography while traveling.

Jobs’ vacation habits were sometimes challenging for those around him: Fadell said Apple employees would hear from Jobs up to six times per day. “He would start thinking, ‘Oh, let’s go buy a music company’ or ‘Should we go and make this kind of product?’ ‘What technology is needed to achieve this?'” Fadell said. “You’ll be like Google to him.”

Usually, says Fadell, you need to quickly type in your research and email it 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 brainstorm Apple’s next product with Jobs himself. But the pressure can also be overwhelming, Fadell notes, especially given that Apple employees are often already working on high-pressure projects.

After leaving Apple, Fadell founded Google’s Nest Labs and says he found himself adopting some of Jobs’ vacation habits. Primarily, he says, spending a few hours from his desk per day increases his productivity at work and his personal well-being.

“There’s a way to do it – to be a high performer, do amazing things, but also give yourself the right amount per day, as well as per year, time off and time to think,” he says, noting that he personally benefits from exercising, eating healthy, and cutting down on alcohol. “During that time, I can come up with great ideas and solve problems while I’m calming my brain.”

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