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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.

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