"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs
Author:  Walter Isaacson
Publishers:  Simon and Schuster
Published:  October 2011
Pages:  656
Genre:  Biography
ISBN 9781451648539

From the publisher:  

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.

My thoughts:  It took me three weeks to complete this biography.  Not because I found it slow, no, just the opposite.  Walter Isaacson developed Steve Jobs, the biography, in a meticulous manner that requires full attention and concentration to fully appreciate the genius of the man Jobs was.  I cannot say that I would like Steve, if I had a chance to meet him.  There are far too many incidences of cruelty to others done in the name of honesty that make one shudder to think of the poor soul on the receiving end of his barbed attacks.  Steve displayed a blatant disregard for social norms, parking in handicapped spots, overriding those he deemed not "intelligent" enough to warrant his time or attention.  These behaviours were not new to him as he built the iconic Apple company and became a household name in the process.  Even as a child/youth he exhibited an impatience for ineptitude, an intolerance for others' opinions and a lack of patience and empathy.  There is the mention of the day, as a teenager, that Jobs discovers he was smarter than his parents (adoptive).  The time Jobs insisted they send him to Reed College rather than Stanford which had accepted him and likely had a scholarship for at least part of the tuition.  He knew his parents had saved his entire life for his continuing education, yet he asked for more than he knew they could afford.  He didn't even have the decency to thank his father for the ride to Reed College, acknowledge his parents' sacrifices to send him there, nor allow their presence on campus.  He wanted to be known as parentless.  Years later he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he truly regretted how he treated his parents.

Reading of this makes one feel of his callousness and selfishness and it is difficult to see past it.  Did you know that Steve Jobs was forced to leave Apple at one time in his young years?  He started the company with Steve Wozniak but he was immature for the responsibility of leading the growing computer giant.  At this point, Steve Jobs started up NeXT, another computer developer and then went to Pixar where he would become the CEO and be instrumental in bringing to screen such hits as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Monsters Inc.  Then at a time when Apple was floundering Steve found his way back as an advisor, then acting CEO and finally as CEO of Apple.  

At MacWorld in Boston August 1997, Steve Jobs addressed Apple upon his return, stressing the word "we" as he spoke of the future of the company.  "We too are going to think differently and serve the people who have been buying our products from the beginning.  Because a lot of people think they're crazy, but in that craziness we see genius." (p. 322, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson)  (was he speaking only of his loyal customers?)  Jobs made it very clear that "he" and "we" of Apple were one. 

Embracing the "think different" theme upon rejoining Apple, Steve and an advertising team including Clow, Ken Segall, and Craig Tanimoto, created a tone poem, some of which Steve Jobs used in his keynote speech at Boston MacWorld. The original version read:
"Here's to the crazy ones.  The misfits.  The rebels.  The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently.  They're not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.  About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They push the human race forward.  And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."  (p. 329, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson)
He refocused the company from a money making endeavour (which it was losing, by the way) back to its origins of designing, engineering and building exceptional products.  With an eye for meticulous detail, a penchant for perfection, and a head for business, he rebuilt his company while developing the iMac, iPod, iPad, iPhone, Apple Stores, iCloud, iTunes, the App Store, and Apple with an eye to the future, foreseeing future trends.

As a  young man, Steve Jobs seemed to predict his short life and felt an urgency to accomplish all that he could in what he deemed would be a short time on this earth.  Years later those premonitions would prove true as he battled pancreatic cancer, had a liver transplant, and cancer again, which proved to be his last battle.  He was at his happiest building his company.  His family was second in his life and for the most part, they realized and accepted that.  It would always be that way.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 Steve Jobs passed away at the age of 56.  He will be remembered as a tyrant, a loyal friend, an innovator, a visionary man, a businessman, a husband and father.  Not necessarily in that order.  Whatever you think of the man, you cannot help but admire his accomplishments.  He was a strong personality, a genius, an innovator.  Jobs reflected upon his legacy which Isaacson included near the end of the biography.  I include here a portion which will show you the man and the focus:
"My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products.  Everything else was secondary.   Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products.  But the products, not the profits, were the motivation.  Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money.  It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything:  the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings......You always have to keep pushing to innovate.  That's what I've always tried to do -- keep moving.  Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you're not busy being born, you're busy dying.....We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow.  That's what has driven me."
Steve Jobs admitted that "everything he did correctly had required a moment when he hit the rewind button.  In each case he had to rework something that he discovered was not perfect.  "If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say you'll fix it later," he said.  "That's what other companies do." And that way of thinking is what helped differentiate him from others, and Apple from other companies.  

Regardless of your opinion of the man, the product, or the company, Steve Jobs, the biography, is a book you really should read.  It is enlightening and will make you think, contemplate, and appreciate the great minds of our time.

Read or listen to an except from the audiobook here.

 <a href='http://video.app.msn.com/watch/video/the-leadership-of-steve-jobs/1dwm5lk52?cpkey=52ed77da-a328-4c1c-9453-59193d2a38b3%7C%7C%7C%7C&amp;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='The Leadership of Steve Jobs' >Video: The Leadership of Steve Jobs</a>

1 comment:

  1. I've been curious about this book. I was surprised to see it on the "Best of" lists already. I can't say I would like him either.


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