A big memo from 40 years ago, why I like the story, and 7 other things worth your time.

“I got to a point where I said to myself, ‘Let it be in the past, just for your own mental health.’”

—Stefan Thomas, a German-born programmer living in San Francisco, who reportedly has a digital wallet containing Bitcoin worth $220 million—if only he could remember the password. (NYT, $)

Welcome, welcome, welcome to our new subscribers today. I’m really glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, find value in it, share it with lots of other people, and one day brag about how you knew about it way back when. Also, if someone forwarded this to you and you’d like to subscribe, here’s how.

By the way—I never like to lose subscribers, but if you don’t want to receive this anymore, I don’t want to clutter your inbox. Remember, there’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every newsletter. Also, if I’ve formatted it right, this link will let you opt out. You can also just reply and ask me to remove you.

Effective immediately!

Don’t you wish more people would practice what they preach?

Here’s an example. Later this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first time any magazine put put Steve Jobs on its cover. That magazine happens to have been Inc., where I’m now a contributing editor.

Jobs was 26 back then, and Apple (then, “Apple Computer”) had just gone public. He was worth about $163 million, and he’s on the cover with a beard and a full head of hair. Good times.

As history, it's pretty cool. This was the Apple that Gen X-ers like me might remember from elementary and middle school, when I first learned a bit of programming on an Apple II.

But what else is interesting is that a lot of the article focuses on decisions made by Apple's CEO at the time. Some younger readers might not realize that this was not Steve Jobs.

Instead, it was Michael Scott (yes, same name as Steve Carell's character on The Office), who was CEO from 1977 to 1981.

There’s a lot in the article about a decision that Scott made in 1980, and that he expressed in an eight-sentence memo that was “circulated” to employees. It went like this:


Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let's all use it! 

Goal: by 1-1-81, NO typewriters at Apple... We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Let's prove it inside before we try and convince our customers.

Now, I know this memo is almost laughably anachronistic. But in 1981, typewriters were still pretty close to state of the art. Announcing that your company would no longer use them was game-changing.

I’ve tried to figure out exactly how many Apple II machines had been sold by 1981. 

The company’s SEC filings don't go back that far online, but I found a secondary source saying Apple did $334 million in revenue in 1981. So, if we estimate a $2,500 price point for the Apple II then, that would put us at about 132,000 computers sold that year.

Regardless, it's a pretty small number compared to what Apple would later do, and it paled at the time compared to typewriters. They still had a giant market to capture.

Even Jobs, in the same article, held up the personal computer as being on a par with four other office innovations that really weren't that old at the time:

  • the IBM Selectric typewriter,

  • the calculator,

  • the Xerox copier, and 

  • the "newer, advanced phone systems."

Unlike political history and military history, I don't think we go back often enough and try to put ourselves in the shoes of business decision-makers, to discern what lessons there are for today.

I usually think of this in terms of business—but really, it applies to decisions in a lot of other parts of life.

Because when I think about the typewriter decision, it’s really about just practicing what you preach. If you're not willing to live today, as if today were already your vision of a perfect tomorrow, then why should anyone else follow your lead?

OK, maybe that’s an overly dramatic way to put it. But, we can all use a bit more authenticity in life, can’t we?

Whatever it is that you think you believe, prove it inside, first.

7 other things worth your time

  • The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to call on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment against President Trump; Pence has said he won’t do it, so the House will almost certainly vote to impeach Trump today. The single article of impeachment needs 218 votes; as of last night it had at least that many Democratic co-sponsors. That doesn’t include several Republicans who have said they’ll vote for it, including Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is number-3 in the GOP House leadership. A Senate trial might not be for some time even after President-elect Biden is sworn in, however. (Politico)

  • More on Trump… In the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell is reportedly “pleased” about all of this, as he believes Trump committed impeachable acts and he also hopes a second impeachment will make it easier to purge Trump’s influence on the Republican party. Separately, President Trump made his first public appearance since last week, and called his speech before the riot “totally appropriate.” (NYT $, NPR)

  • The FBI reportedly warned a day before the riots of extremists “preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and “‘war,’” but also tempered it with fears of violating U.S. citizens’ First Amendment rights. Separately, a New Jersey congresswoman, Mikie Sherrill, who is a former federal prosecutor, accused some members of Congress of having led groups on “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol the day before the riot. (WashPost, $; NorthJersey.com)

  • The National Guard is rolling out across the country, as threats of “armed protests” in the capitals of all 50 states and at the Capitol (where there could be 15,000 armed U.S. troops on Inauguration Day) emerge. Writing that sentence is scary, so let’s emphasize that these are just threats, for now, but after what happened last week it’s prudent to be careful. Also, in an unprecedented move, the Joint Chiefs of Staff penned a memo for every member of the military, affirming that the election is over, and Biden will be sworn in on Jan. 20. (WashPost, x2)

  • As part of a plan to restore at least some international travel, the U.S. will require all international airline passengers, including returning Americans, to provide a negative Covid test before entering the country. Separately, at least 2,764 passengers have been banned from flying in the U.S. for refusing to wear masks. (Bloomberg, Some guy on Twitter if I’m being honest, but he says he works for CBS News)

  • The U.S. was set to conduct the execution of the first female federal prisoner in 70 years last night, after the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay. Lisa Montgomery was convicted of the horrific 2004 murder of a pregnant woman, and of taking her unborn baby, who survived. This was sort of a race against the clock for the Trump administration, whose members believed that if Montgomery survived another week until Biden took over, she might never have been put to death. (Axios)

  • The “world’s most expensive home,” a $350 million mansion, is apparently ready to go on the market in Los Angeles. Interesting timing, but hey, what do I know? Here’s what it all looks like. (Architectural Digest)

Thanks for reading. Photo from Pixabay; I’ve written about this memo before for Inc.com. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, then as Joe Biden would say: C’mon, man! Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.  

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, if you’ve wondered, What can I do to help Bill build this? That’s the #1 thing—for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Thank you!

Share Understandably

One-click review and feedback: