Book Review: Steve Jobs

January 17, 2012

I have to say that this book had me believing that I would dislike Steve Jobs because he came across as a spoiled (crying when he didn’t get his own way), arrogant tyrant to work for, a harsh and insensitive individual to be friends with, and a man who was distant and neglectful towards his family. However, Walter Isaacson balanced this view of Steve Jobs with a detailed treatment of the qualities that made Steve Jobs great.

One of those qualities was a sincere passion for creating great products. Steve Jobs had an overarching, personal mission to “put a dent in the universe,” and that quest led him to develop truly elegant products that delighted customers. Jobs also built highly successful companies, offering key perspectives that all of us should make note of.

Jobs felt that there were no shortcuts in building a real company. As Jobs said, “I hate it when people call themselves ‘entrepreneurs’ when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before.”

And he meant it. In talking about what went wrong with Apple after his departure, Jobs felt that chasing money for money’s sake rather than producing great products was the central issue with Apple’s decline: “Sculley destroyed Apple by bringing in corrupt people and corrupt values,” Jobs observed. “They cared about making money—for themselves mainly, and also for Apple—rather than making great products. Macintosh lost to Microsoft because Sculley insisted on milking all the profits he could get rather than improving the product and making it affordable.”

As we all know, when Steve Jobs took the helm again at Apple he re-focused on products. He also reduced Apple's bloated product line to create focus as well as eliminate confusion. He also took care not organize Apple into semiautonomous divisions. Instead, he made sure that Apple worked as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom line. “We don’t have ‘divisions’ with their own P&L,” says Tim Cook. “We run one P&L for the company.”

Throughout his life Jobs was very outspoken, and he certainly had the courage and confidence in his beliefs to act on his beliefs – and to convince others to act. This was not always a good thing because not everything Steve Jobs touched turned into gold. Isaacson made sure to continually remind of us of something that was a constant reality when dealing with Steve Jobs: he had an intensity and magnetism to his personality that – when coupled with the courage of his convictions – created a “reality distortion field” (Bill Gates was reportedly immune).

Being drawn into Job’s “reality distortion field” meant that you were completely sold on whatever it was Steve Jobs was selling, despite any logical arguments that you may have had prior to engaging with Jobs. This was great if Jobs was right, not so good if he was wrong. This also seemed to have offset a great deal of Jobs’ weaknesses.

Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs was instrumental in building Apple and later turning it around. In between gigs with Apple, he enjoyed great success with Pixar Animation. I could go on and on quoting the insights that Steve Jobs had about creating great products and businesses, but it is better to read them for yourself in context with the situations that Steve Jobs was facing at the time.

Walter Isaacson clearly strove to provide a balanced perspective of Steve Jobs, and he certainly succeeded on that point. He left no stone unturned in chronicling the detailed history of Steve Jobs, and I didn't want for additional information! Be forewarned that this book is somewhat lengthy, and I'm sure that others will desire shorter, more entertaining biographies. I personally enjoyed the book and the balanced perspective, and Isaacson certainly left no stone unturned in chronicling the detailed history of Steve Jobs.