My first writing of 2012 and its a book review of “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. Fun article to write and great book to read.
Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Daniel Forrester ponders on the life of Steve Jobs through Walter Issacson’s definitive summary
Recently I took my wife and children to West Orange, New Jersey. There you will find a remarkable set of buildings and business laboratories once owned and operated by Thomas Edison. As America’s iconic inventor, Edison changed the arch of history and technology within these impressive buildings. As I observed the details within the innovative space, I wondered what it was like to work for Edison. He was driven to create. He worked insane amounts of hours as his time cards proudly display. He was a thinker who valued time with his imagination perhaps more than he did with people.
When Steve Jobs died last year, my mind turned to his legacy and the rooms on the west coast of the U.S. where his business vision still unfolds. I wonder if my grand children (should I be so blessed) will tour Jobs’ home and workspaces one hundred years from today. Will they get to see the garage where he and Steve Wozniak designed the first Apple computer? Will Jobs’ legacy stand the test of time in the same way that Edison’s has?
After reading Walter Isaacson’s comprehensive biography of Steve Jobs, I think it’s very likely that my grand children will be there to imagine Jobs’ life and work. My sense is that the visitor experience will involve new devices and technologies that bring the walls of the building to life and might even allow you to speak to a virtual Steve Jobs. It won’t be like the static and quiet environment of the Edison lab. It will be an experience that no one can quite envision; much the way Steve Jobs would have liked it.
While the biography is over 500 pages, Isaacson never lets you linger within a corner of this complex man’s life. The Steve Jobs you meet is a range of emotions and ideas swaddled within the luck of his birth state. Only California could have enabled the full human potential of Steve Jobs.
The man you come to know is at times naive, aggressive, focused, aloof, nasty, insightful, delusional, and an inspiration. This book shows his rough edges, as much as it extols the true impact he has had on commerce, technology and design. You will learn a ton about the computer industry by reading the book, as Isaacson did his homework and writes with context and care for the reader.
Isaacson didn’t fall in love with Steve Jobs. He wouldn’t allow it to happen. There are many moments of praise for Jobs. Yet there are many moments of balance and calling out where Jobs got something very wrong or was spinning within his own bizarre version of reality. Thankfully, Isaacson avoided using armchair psychology to evaluate Jobs. It must have been tempting to do so given all the strange behaviors and emotions that Jobs displayed.
The mythology of Steve Jobs will continue to unfold, as more biographies will be written about the man. In the end, Isaacson was given a front row seat to an extraordinary life and his account will remain the primary record. This book is not about one man and a great company. This book is about an abandoned boy who envisions an early death and then acts on his intuition no matter who he offends along the way.
It was hard to like Steve Jobs after reading this book. It’s also hard not to thank him for caring so much about the products and experiences that Apple has enabled us to have. I wrote my first book on a MacBook Pro; the same one that I am using to write this article. The machine is so smooth to interact with that it became an extension of my mind as the words flowed through me in 2009-10. I had never owned a Mac before I wrote a book. I will write my next book on whatever Apple has on the market at that time.
SOME LASTING IMPRESSIONS
Students of management and leadership will draw many insights from this book and all that Jobs attempted and accomplished. Insights that linger with me include:
The consequences of brutal truth telling. Dozens of times in the biography, Jobs walks in a room and tells someone that their work was a “piece of shit.” He called it as he saw it and often destroyed human ambition in his path. Many left him. I could never talk to people in business the way Jobs did; there was no balance. However he inspired many at Apple to take the brutal feedback and try again. I wondered if I could have worked for him for even one day–probably not. I also wondered how so many people rationalized away his tone and outbursts just for a fleeting moment of his elusive validation.
The courage of “connecting the dots,” while looking forward. Jobs never cared about shallow concepts like “shareholder value.” Rather, he pushed himself to think about how the parts of an emerging industry were colliding. He imagined how he would surprise and delight the customers. He took massive risks and made brave bets that moved the world. He could care less about Wall Street’s assessment of Apple’s performance. He never feared that people would reject the final combinations of dots.
The value of integrated design and keeping an organization flat. Isaacson was allowed into the Apple workspaces where new products are envisioned and prototyped. On Mondays, Jobs would spend up to four hours with an integrated design, technology and business team as each nuance of a product was envisioned. This enabled real time collaboration within Apple. Jobs ran that amazing symphony. While the track record of their design is unparalleled, I wonder if the maestro himself made the difference or if the ingrained habits of their design approach will continue to hatch new innovations?
The power of “pressing the pause button” and forcing reflection. As I have studied the power of reflective thinking, I could not help but to notice how Jobs managed his think time. From meditation to long walks, he broke up the patterns of his day in order to allow his mind to wander in new directions. Later in his career, he showed a willingness to stop the production line when he sensed that something was not right. He would not rush an unfinished product to market. He forced reflection and iteration into the habits of the company. Within moments of reflection big ideas became reality. Thankfully a bias for action never trumped one more tweak of a design.
Oh…and one more thing. With thanks to the web, you can relive some of Jobs’ best moments on stage. You can also experience the commencement address he gave at Stanford in 2005. Within that speech he reveals some of his top insights; as he knew his body was failing him and wanted to reflect on his life to date. Jobs wrote the speech himself. He had no one to yell at if it was bad and no handlers to convey false emotions that he himself had not lived. The speech, like Isaacson’s terrific biography, is a gift to the dreamers, entrepreneurs and inventors yet to come.