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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson – Book Review

This originally appeared at

The Jobs book was everything it was supposed to be.
I’ll start at the end. Walter Isaacson spoke with Jobs right before he died. Isaacson told Jobs that the book would have many things in it that he wouldn’t like. Jobs was happy about that. He realized that it would therefore not sound like a stock biography. The ‘approved’ biographies are all the same. They have a little bit about some of the public scandals, perhaps a few things that weren’t released to the public, but not much new or exciting. The rest is just hagiographic babble. The Jobs biography avoids this. There are times in the book where Jobs is such a jerk, I’m glad he died early. You read that right. I’m not proud of feeling that way, but in the interest of telling the truth, which this book does, I have to say it. Isaacson lets it fly when it comes to Jobs’ legendary rancid ability to be an asshole. The good thing about this? It brings about the most interesting parts of the book regarding Apple and the business world. How do you maintain such an arrogant, prickly personality and simultaneously create, ruin, then resurrect a company? And not just that, a company that has become a technological leader, an earnings behemoth, and an industry standard? One would expect a well spoken, polite, friendly guy to make deals and create goodwill. Isaacson shows with candor how Jobs was a rude jerk while using that trait to move himself and his company forward. This unlikely scenario is brought to light with granular detail.

Jobs was a relentless leader. Reading the book, it seemed to be that the was allergic to soft pedaling anything – ever. Beginning with the ‘start the IT company in the garage’ (true in this case), to the magnificent resurrection of AAPL from 1997-2010, Jobs was the helmsman who was able to get his top engineers to push themselves to create the products we rely on today. Where the book exceeds expectations is showing that you don’t need a meeting. There were production delays, design delays, manufacturing delays, disagreements among marketers, engineers, friends all throughout the creation of all the major Apple products. Jobs would decide which way to go himself. What would be scheduled in a meeting in other companies and take weeks, would be decided in 15 minutes at Apple. According to many in management, this simply cannot be the way to go. Actually, it can. As a crusading leader, Jobs would, in his rude way, explain why the other companies’ products in the same niche were ‘shit’ (an opinion), or ‘failures’ (quantifiable fact), He’d show how a lack of decisiveness, how the need to make every division of the company happy was keeping the products from being great. Even though he was a jerk about it, he was right. Being right doesn’t engender good feeling. Being right, successful, prickly, and rich alienates many. I think if Apple had failed, he’d have been pilloried by hundreds. Two things happened – Apple didn’t have any major stumbles, and Jobs died too soon.

An entrepreneurial take away that will stay with me: Jobs wasn’t a person to ‘give the customer what he wants’ type of guy. At the end of the book Isaacson writes about Jobs’ philosophy. Jobs was always explaining that the customer doesn’t know what he wants. He’ll know it when it’s put in front of him. Jobs quoted Henry Ford on this, mentioning that Ford once said that if he’d asked his customers wanted, they’d have said “a faster horse”. It takes a strong personality and a driven genius level mind to actually pre-empt the desires of your customers. Jobs was able to do that, from the beginning with his top gun technologist partner, Steve Wozniak, to the very end at the wheel of a multinational technology giant.

It’s an amazing story.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Common App Supplemental Essay That Worked

This essay preparation piece originally appeared on
Sometimes an essay has to use an old, tired topic. You have to write carefully so that your essay 
isn't also tired.

This supplemental was a classic topic - it asked you to describe a time of difficulty you experienced and how you got through it. This is an easy topic to understand, but it is extremely hard to write well on such a trite topic. This essay got the job done. This essay is here as a guide, to show best practices for when you write your own personilized, individual essay.

Through out my life I had to always work harder than the rest of my peers and I never new why. It wasn't because of my station in life but because of the way I learned and understood material in school. In what I became a common thread in my life, I found out that I was different than everyone else. Whenever there was a list of directions given out to the class I would always miss one of the directions given. This confused me. When I realized my parents couldn't be at school with me, I knew I had to take the responsibility of being my best own advocate. I realized in order for me to understand all that was asked, I would have to meet with my teachers two weeks ahead of any major assignments. I began to do things that reflected a level of maturity unnatural for my age. I would schedule my days in advance so I would have time to meet with my teachers everyday so I could understand the material. After new material had been taught and reading assigned I made sure to reread the material two to three times and write down any questions I had in the margins or on a separate piece of paper. The next day I could ask the teacher and full understand the content. (DM: Notice a few things. The author manages to turn a weakness into a strength: he has a hard time processing information and had to work double time to keep up. He also admits that he's comfortable asking for help from the teacher. It is also specific about what he DID to rectify the situation.)

What I didn't realize was going on was that I was adapting to my environment, using the skills I did have to offset the ones I lacked. As I got older I realized that the human mind is pliable, and it manifested itself by forcing me to plan ahead. Because I was afraid of getting bad grades and looking foolish in class, I did whatever was necessary to avoid the dark place that peer ridicule can take you. (DM: Notice the language at the end of this paragraph - it's a smarter way of saying he "didn't let his peers get him down." See how this way is more profound)

This was a difficult transition. As I grew older I saw how much of our society won't let people figure out on their own how to overcome limitations. Under the guise of ‘compassion' or ‘help' I see education institutions in particular getting things done for people who have certain limits. Intellectually I now find this somewhat odd. I hear a lot about letting people learn – having an equitable opportunity to learn and excel. If things are done for folks, when will they learn how to do it on their own? Had I had someone to make my schedule for me, to give me extra time for completing a task, I would have never figured out how to operate on the same plane as my peers. (DM: Notice the rhetorical questions, and the old question about letting people sink or swim on their own, but without using that kind of tired language.)

I often get accused of being crass or unkind with views like these. I see it the other way. I think I am being more kind than most. I look at the old ways of sending young people through a rite of passage. If someone failed it wasn't the end of the world. In fact, it was seen as a boon to that person. He learned from that failure, and began to grow a thick skin that would block frustration. This sets people up for more success in life, and gives them useful tools. I know what it did for me. It was a transition that contained some bad memories and caused some hurt feelings, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. (DM: The last paragraph is the best one. The use of 'rite of passage', 'boon', 'I know what it did for me' all show vocabulary fluency and the ability to admit loss. It follows the question of the application well and ends with a clear, concise sentence.)


500 plus words. Mission accomplished. An incredibly common topic handled with originality and skill. This applicant got into a small private college in Westchester County, NY.

The essay topics are usually similar throughout the years, especially on the Common App. Use this as a guide to mix in clear wording and fresh phrases in order to get the essay you want. Do not copy it - use the style and the structure.