Bushnell hadn't been attracting much attention in recent years until Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography on Jobs came out in 2011, just after Jobs' death. It reminded readers of Bushnell's early ties to the man behind the Macintosh computer, iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Suddenly, everyone was asking Bushnell about what it was like to be Jobs' first boss. Publisher Tim Sanders of Net Minds persuaded him to write a book linked to Jobs, even though Bushnell had already finished writing a science fiction novel about a video game hatched through nanotechnology in 2071.
"The idea is to become a best-selling author first and then the rest of my books will be slam dunks," Bushnell said. To get his literary career rolling, Bushnell relied on veteran ghostwriter Gene Stone, who also has written other books, including "Forks Over Knives," under his own name.
Bushnell's book doesn't provide intimate details about what Jobs was like after he dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Ore., and went to work as a technician in 1974 at Atari in Los Gatos, Calif. He had two stints there, sandwiched around a trip to India. During his second stint at Atari, in 1975, Jobs worked on a "Pong" knock-off called "Breakout" with the help of his longtime friend Wozniak, who did most of the engineering work on the video game, even though he wasn't being paid by Atari. Jobs left Atari for good in 1976 when he co-founded Apple with Wozniak, who had been designing engineering calculators at Hewlett-Packard Co.
Jobs and Bushnell kept in touch. They would periodically meet over tea or during walks to hash out business ideas. After Bushnell moved to Los Angeles with his family 13 years ago, he didn't talk to Jobs as frequently, though he made a final visit about six months before he died.
There are only a few anecdotes about Bushnell's interaction with Jobs at Atari and about those meetings around Silicon Valley.
The book instead serves as a primer on how to ensure a company doesn't turn into a mind-numbing bureaucracy that smothers existing employees and scares off rule-bending innovators such as Jobs.
Bushnell dispenses his advice in vignettes that hammer on a few points. The basics: Make work fun; weed out the naysayers; celebrate failure, and then learn from it; allow employees to take short naps during the day; and don't shy away from hiring talented people just because they look sloppy or lack college credentials.
Many of these principles have become tenets in Silicon Valley's laid-back, risk-taking atmosphere, but Bushnell believes they remain alien concepts in most of corporate America.
"The truth is that very few companies would hire Steve, even today," Bushnell writes in his book. "Why? Because he was an outlier. To most potential employers, he'd just seem like a jerk in bad clothing."
Bushnell says he is worried that Apple is starting to lose the magic touch that Jobs brought to the company. It's a concern shared by many investors, who have been bailing out of Apple's stock amid tougher competition for the iPhone and the iPad and the lack of a new product line since Tim Cook became the company's CEO shortly before Jobs' death. Apple's market value has dropped by 36 percent, or about $235 billion, from its all-time high reached last September.
The incremental steps that Apple has been taking with the iPod, iPhone and iPad have been fine, Bushnell says, but not enough to prove the company is still thinking differently.
"To really maintain the cutting edge that they live on, they will have to do some radical things that resonate," Bushnell said. "They probably have three more years before they really have to do something big. I hope they are working on it right now."
Bushnell is still keeping busy himself. When he isn't writing, he is running his latest startup, Brainrush, which is trying to turn the process of learning into a game-like experience. He says he hopes to fix an educational system that he believes is "incorrect, inefficient and bureaucratic — all the things you don't want to see in your workforce of the future."