Steve Jobs : By Walter Isaacson, 2011
Sitting in a crowded room, if the question gets thrown out there, who was a great leader?
Especially in a tech filled room, you will often, sooner or later, inevitably hear the name SJ thrown out there.
Is this almost because people feel they’d be seen as foolish or stunted if they didn’t mention him?
There is so much hagiography about Apple, people love it, people hate it, it has become almost like politics, and religion. Some times best not brought up with close friends, you’d rather not argue with them.
Why bring it up then?
I’d had no interest in reading this book when it came out. Apple did some good stuff, it also did some junky stuff. To me it often seemed, for some, purchasing an Apple was often an aspirational statement, looking to claim the aura of being a creative simply by buying one of their products. Hence the book held less interest to me.
Then I read a few articles about interesting creative people, such as the founder of the stackoverflow websites, who said they had read the book and immediately changed their lives.
In order to not be like Steve Jobs…..
Now I was interested.
SJ’s attention to detail was well known. Also well known was his rudeness, and impatience with those he considered to be fools, and incapable of delivering what he wanted. Though he was also rude and dismissive to those who worked hard and successfully for him as well.
So far, so unlikable.
A question often asked, is whether he might have been able to achieve as much as he did, without the rudeness and vitriol?
This is why I wanted to read it. To see what horrors were glimpsed by these other interesting people, who were so affected by SJ’s work life balance that they immediately took steps to ensure their own was not so dire.
However the longer I read the book, despite his terrible personal habits, his way of speaking to people, and how he treated his partners and children, despite all of this …. in many ways he did actually have a point.
His attention to detail, for things on the inside of the box, that no customer would ever see, were considered extreme. However the little things do matter, and do make a difference in putting your product away and ahead of the opposition.
He was also intolerant of mediocrity, and lazy people with low standards and expectations. The thing is, it is actually the case we are often held back by other people’s sloth and negativity.
The longer the book went on, and it does, it’s almost 600 pages, the more he grew on me. Yes, a deeply flawed person, being put up for adoption is probably never going to help really. However the best biographies, accurately manage to reflect the complexities of creative, challenging people.
Life is messy. We might not even want to meet these people, but in terms of adding understanding to our lives, then this was another helpful and interesting book to read. You try, sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail.
Sometimes you fail when you succeed, but if you can stay strong minded enough in the belief you are following something you believe in, then you will do great things. Regardless of whether it makes you millions or not.
In this regard too, SJ was utterly uninterested in wealth or riches, which is a healthy antidote to much of the current start up culture which is about have an idea, grow it, and then sell it.
A SJ ethics class would be a step too far, but it is still a book worth reading in 2014.