Posted by: Tate Linden
Did Jobs make a dent in the universe? Damned if I know. Frankly, I can’t find a place far enough back to see for sure.
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
- Attributed to Steve Jobs
Actually, Jobs probably didn’t say that. At least the real one didn’t. Noah Wylie said this exact line in The Pirates of Silicon Valley while playing Jobs in a made-for-TV movie. Martin Burke (the director of the movie) admitted that he never actually interviewed Jobs, though he did “have two or more sources that verify each scene” which means that all he knows is that something like that happened, but not what was really said. Even wikiquote lists it as unsourced.
To echo Steve Jobs, whose Great Group at Apple created the Macintosh, each of these groups “put a dent in the universe.”
Dr. Bennis uses the phrase again twice in 1997 in the same interview with David Gergen in reference to the ideas discussed in Organizing Genius and in another interview in 1998 Dr. Bennis is back to loosely referencing Jobs’s denting.
Jump forward to 2001 and Philip Elmer-Dewitt also uses it twice in an article for Time Magazine:
He loved to tell his designers that the computer they were building — with its icons, its pull-down menus and its mouse — would not only change the world, but also “put a dent in the universe.”
In the future, says Levy, “we will cross the line between substance and cyberspace with increasing frequency, and think nothing of it.” That’s what Jobs would call a dent in the universe.
But it’s Playboy, of all the publishers in the world, that comes through and actually finds Jobs’s dent under a pile of 15,000 words in an interview he gave way back in 1985. Jobs says,
At Apple, people are putting in 18-hour days. We attract a different type of person‐‑a person who doesn’t want to wait five or ten years to have someone take a giant risk on him or her. Someone who really wants to get in a little over his head and make a little dent in the universe.
So, while I can’t confirm that he made a dent in the universe, nor that Noah Wylie was quoting him directly with his often referenced script reading, it’s probably safe to assume that Jobs was at least thinking about the issues.
What bugs me more than the way this quote has grown from something he did say into something that he likely didn’t is the fact that he would think of it at all. For a man that smart and talented to choose a sledgehammer as his tool of choice seems… wrong. A dent gets stuffed with Bondo and buffed out. Pretty sure he didn’t actually want that to happen. Maybe I’ll look into it in my next post if there’s interest from the (possibly dented) world-at-large.