Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson tells of a series of engagements that led to his writing the definitive biography on Steve Jobs. Jobs, convinced that Isaacson would be the best man for the job, wooed and courted Isaacson, badgered him into taking on the job. Then cooled on the idea, before finally forging ahead to demand that Isaacson get the job done (no doubt his illness had something to do with the urgency).
But this is perhaps a microcosm of the way Steve Jobs was to interact and lead in his business life. The courtship, the wooing, the hot, then cold approach, always seeking “purity” or perfection in design and delivery of product.
Jobs, of course, started out as a young engineer, who by all accounts was pretty average, but who had a talent for recognising outstanding ability (see Steve Wozniak), harnessing that ability and then channelling it to produce outstanding, groundbreaking technical products. This was a formula for success, from Jobs’ collaboration with Wozniak, to his building of the Pixar computer animation company, to his reuniting with Apple to develop a plethora of world-changing products: iMac; iBook; iPod; iPhone; iTunes; iPad; plus custom-designed software to make those products sensational.
His vegan and fruitarian tendencies, and radical dieting plans, plus a lifelong commitment to a spiritual path, provided interesting sideshows of sorts. As did his claim that taking acid (LSD) was one of the most important things he’s ever done. But, in time, jobs was to become one of the meanest corporate negotiators in history. Thus a man of many contrasts.
Mean, prickly, difficult, fussy, occasionally vicious . . . Jobs was all those things, but he was dedicated, passionate and 100% committed to making Apple (and Pixar) quite simply the best in terms of quality, design, innovation and user experience in its various markets. Those staff who were able to cope with the demands of living with Jobs professionally, were dedicated admirers of his many abilities, as he built Apple into one of the world’s greatest brands.
After digesting Isaacson’s book, my impression of the leading abilities of this true genius of the 20th and 21st Centuries are:
- Ability to collaborate and pull top skills together
- Uncompromising on quality
- Uncompromising on design
- Uncompromising on user friendliness
- Ability to focus
- Ability to look beyond the now
- Marketing genius
Interestingly, Jobs, a renowned control freak, relinquished control of this biography, leaving Isaacson to get on with the job, only interfering in the design of the cover. In return Isaacson has been fair and stayed true to Jobs’s request to tell the whole story, interview as many people as possible and create a record for his family and all who worked with, or knew, him. As a result this book does not try to appease or impress anyone, but really just tells the story, warts, temper tantrums, sublime moments of success and all.
I regard this book as essential reading for anyone into technology, branding, marketing, human resources and the area “where science and the humanities meet” . . . and for anyone (like me) who revels in the joy of getting to play with some of Apple’s finest creations. – Garth Johnstone
**Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is published by Little Brown