Eavesdropping on Conversations that Changed History

Photo of Peter Hartmann
April 14, 2016
Reading time
3 minutes

We often take conversation for granted. But these interactions have the power to persuade, spur innovation and change the world. Just take a look.

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If you could listen in on one conversation from history, what would it be?

I found myself asking that question the other day. I was riding the train and trying to escape the discussion coming from the seat ahead of me. A fellow passenger was on the phone, pleading with someone, somewhere, to do something. “No really. Please? Come on…. Please, please?”

Like most public phone conversations we overhear, I was only getting one side of it – which made it all the more incomprehensible.

Desperate to break free from this unwelcome distraction, I began fantasizing about the one, historic conversation I’d most like to have overheard both sides of.

Glancing down at the mobile device in my hand, inspiration struck: iPhone… Apple… Steve Jobs.

Yes, it would have been thrilling to be a fly on the wall for any of many fascinating conversations that punctuated his time at Apple.

Perhaps the one when Jobs convinced then – Pepsi executive John Sculley to join Apple by asking, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

Far from the pleading emanating from the train seat ahead of me, this one illustrates how a single line, delivered concisely and powerfully during a conversation, has vast potential to persuade. Little did the two know that this conversation would ultimately lead to one of the biggest boardroom feuds in corporate history.

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Or maybe the one in 1985 where Jobs was fired (or chose to leave, depending on who’s telling the story). It must have been a painfully unpleasant discussion: The visionary founder of the company having to leave the company he created.

Conversation, even a negative one, has the power to motivate and inspire. Jobs reacted to his ouster not by slinking away or wallowing in sorrow, but by helping establish Pixar, which revolutionized the way animated movies were made, and starting another computer company, NeXT, which would lead to bigger things.

And of course, the conversations that ensued when Jobs triumphantly returned, in 1997, to rescue an Apple that was desperately struggling to survive. I can just imagine the “see-I-told-you-so,” look on his face during the conversations that led to his rehiring and the ensuing board meetings.

The rest, as we all know, is history. Jobs went on to introduce products and software that reinvigorated Apple and revolutionized the way we interact with technology. If it weren’t for these and other conversations, the devices we use today – laptops, notebooks, tablets, MP3 players – would likely look and work far differently, assuming they even existed at all. And who knows? Maybe even Apple wouldn’t be around today either.

It just goes to show that some conversations can indeed change the world.

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