In an on-stage interview at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Wozniak told interviewer Moira Gunn, host of Tech Nation on National Public Radio, that too much input from others can make an inventor lose focus.
"If you have technical ideas, if you know what you're good at, and you know what you're doing is right ... you have to shut them out," Wozniak said of people trying to influence an engineer's work. Pursuing a vision without compromise, is "the right way of going through life."
Wozniak touched on many topics during the interview, but in describing how to be successful as an inventor, he said having very little money helps stimulate creativity. As a computer designer, "I would do any trick I could think of to try to save money," he said. "Not having any money helps."
Being shy also helped, because it made it easier for him to shut himself in a room and work. "That shyness helps you develop a streak of independence," he said.
Doing something that has never been done before was a key driver for Wozniak in his engineering days, and that wouldn't change if he ever decided to leave retirement. "If I was in it today, I'd be looking for something different," he said. "Something that's so new and rare that it didn't exist before and hopefully has some benefit."
But he described engineering at that level as a "lonely business" that's stressful and requires intense mental concentration. "It's a really intense mental effort," he said. With a family and so much to do as a result of his celebrity, "I don’t have the time anymore."
As to the money he could make, Wozniak said he was never interested in financial rewards, and let Apple co-founder Steve Jobs handle the business end. "It was always his idea to sell," Wozniak said.
In fact, Wozniak had his "dream job" at Hewlett-Packard as a designer when he started working on the Apple computer on his spare time, and decided to leave HP only after Jobs rallied Wozniak's friends and family. "I was never going to leave HP," he said. "Engineers were respected [there]."
Wozniak left after being convinced that he could work at Apple and still be "an engineer for life and take the money." But before leaving, he offered the work he was doing on the first Apple computer to HP five times, and was rejected. Wozniak said he was too ethical a person to not offer his inventions to his employer.
One of Wozniak's favorite gadgets today is the Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle. Wozniak carries the Segway with him in his Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric midsize car, to use when he visits San Francisco. He also rents them in Europe and is a member of a Segway polo team.
Wozniak acknowledged that he's still a "gadget person" and remains fascinated with computer technology, but not without wondering about its overall impact on our lives.
"Technology is always supposed to improve our lives," he said. "I don't know. Are we happier than we were 100 years ago? Are we happier than we were 1,000 years ago? Do we smile more?"